Risotto is my favorite Italian dish of all time: I find the texture to be creamy, it comforts me, and people can make different variations of it. For instance, people can make a Cacio e Pepe risotto, typically a pasta dish. Or the classic risotto alla Milanese. Risotto — consisting of medium-grain rice — can be a simple dish to cook, but in MasterChef Australia, it’s called the “Death dish” because people tend to overcomplicate their risotto. The first young chef to have won three Michelin stars, Marco Pierre White, once said, “Cooking should be a pleasure.” Try not to make things complicated on yourself and have fun. Risotto takes patience because the liquid needs to cook the rice gently, but also you have to be gentle with the rice as well. While this recipe may seem tricky, it’s actually very simple — just don’t rush the process!

The biggest mistake people make while making a risotto is they rush it. They think everything must be cooked in a high heat and they try pouring all the stock or broth in at once to speed the process. Risotto should be cooked in a fairly low or medium-low heat. Some stovetops will be labeled “High, medium, and low” or with a number. If it’s a number, aim for a three or one. Additionally, the stock or broth should be added gradually while cooking. The reason the liquid should be added gradually is because the starch within the rice grain is retained, so the grain stays more uniform. If you put a lot, or even all, of the liquid, the grain will flake apart.

Another mistake lies with the choice of rice. It can’t be just any rice, it has to be medium-grain rice. Long-grain rice (e.g., jasmine, basmati, carolina gold, etc.) will not work because they have different starch properties than medium-grain rice. Thus, it will give off less starch and not help create a creamy consistency. The best rice to make risotto with is carnaroli or vialone nano, not arborio. Some cooks often think arborio has the highest starch content, but it’s carnaroli and vialone nano that have the most starch content. Worst case scenario, use arborio. Additionally, try not to wash the rice because the starch will be lost. The starch is what’s going to help make the risotto creamy. Think of it this way: in dating terms, carnaroli is the person that is the greatest and everyone loves them because they are the whole package. Vialone nano is the person that nobody swipes right to, but when someone swipes right, they realize they are amazing and cannot believe that they are not taken yet. Then there is arborio, the person that everyone likes for some reason, even though they have nothing to offer.

Now that you understand the secret to making a great risotto, it is time to make the risotto alla carbonara. Technically, carbonara is a pasta dish consisting of guanciale, pecorino romano, and parmesan (or parmigiano reggiano), but the beauty with risotto is that it can be made in different variations. In this case, we’re going to swap out noodles for rice. 

Note: Try not to use pre-shredded cheese because there’s usually a preservative called natamycin or potato starch. This can result in a very clunky texture and not the creamy texture that we want. Do not add salt in anything as the guanciale (or the alternate meats I included in the ingredients below) and cheese are salty enough. If anything, add extra pecorino romano as the salt because it is relatively salty. But also notice that in this recipe, you will not see a specific time to cook as every stove or cookware is different. This is a fantastic way for people to learn how to taste as you go, but also to observe what you are doing. Finally, a recipe is just guidelines. Adjust accordingly to your taste.

Izzie Ramirez

Risotto Alla Carbonara

Prep Time: Can vary (Minimum of 20 minutes, maximum 2 hours)

Cook Time: Can vary depending on stovetop or cookware (typically 25 minutes)

Servings: Two people


• 12 small cubes of guanciale (or however much you want). If you cannot find guanciale, use pancetta or a thick cut of smoked bacon.

• Two tablespoons of guanciale fat

• 1/2 Cup of carnaroli rice

• (As needed) pork stock

• 1/4 Cup of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

• 1/4 Cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano

• One grated cured egg yolk (a regular egg yolk in room temperature is fine)

• One tablespoon of unsalted butter

• (As needed) freshly ground black pepper


• Stock pot

• Ladle

• Wooden spoon or rubber spatula

• Grater

• Saucepan or Dutch oven

• Knives for cutting

• Measuring cups

• Paper towels

• Five bowls (to hold the fat, cheese, butter, rice, and egg yolk

Step One: Browning

The goal is to not only render the fat, but to also make sure that the guanciale (or other meat) is browned. Oil is not necessary when browning, why mask the natural flavor of the fat with something else? Take a saucepan or dutch oven and cook the guanciale on medium-high heat.

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While browning, make sure you take the fat out little by little and place it in a bowl for later. It allows for the meat to be crispy and cook more efficiently. Additionally, you do not want the fat to be burned or look super dark. Cook the meat until it has a golden brown color.

Once cooked, take the guanciale (or other meat) and place them on a paper towel and remove as much fat off as you can with the paper towel. We are looking for a crispy texture for the meat, not soggy and drenched.

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Step Two: Boil and then simmer the stock

Have a separate stock pot ready and make a pork stock. If you do not want to make fresh pork stock, that’s completely fine! There is no shame in using a pre-made stock. Bring the stock up to a boil and let it simmer. If you made the stock from scratch, be sure to remove the impurities. Allow the stock to be in a simmer stage because if you decide to add in cold stock in a hot pan, it slows down the process.

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Step Three: Add in the fat

With the same saucepan or Dutch oven that was used for browning, add in the guanciale fat. There is still some leftover flavor in the saucepan or Dutch oven, do not waste all that flavor! Heat up the pan to low heat.

Step Four: Toast the rice

Once the fat has been heated up, add in the rice and toast it until it becomes translucent. This step allows the rice to create a “shell” to help slowly absorb the moisture without it becoming soggy or flaking apart.

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Step Five: Gradually add the stock and stir

Slowly turn up the heat of the pan and begin gradually adding stock into the pan and stir with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula for no more than 30 seconds, pause for another 30 seconds, stir again for 30 seconds. Finally, when you add in the stock, don’t add all of it all at once. To tell if you need more stock, check the borders around your pan or Dutch oven for bubbles. When you see bubbles around the border, add more stock and stir again with the same procedure.

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Stirring too much slows down the cooking process because you’re incorporating too much air which can cool it down. This makes the consistency look wrong. Stir too little and you allow the rice to stick and burn. Watch the risotto carefully like a kid, but have confidence when cooking a risotto. Do this until the rice has become al dente (cooked, but still firm to the bite). When the rice becomes al dente, make sure to not evaporate all of the liquid because you will need some of the liquid to help cream the risotto.

Step Six: “Mantecare”

Once the rice has become al dente, turn off and remove from the heat and let it rest for one minute. Once rested, add in the grated cheese, grated cured egg yolk (or a room temperature egg yolk), freshly ground black pepper, and whip in the butter to begin the mantecare (creaming) process.

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Before anyone condemns me for using butter for a carbonara recipe, the butter is going to help cream the risotto. Stir and incorporate air until the risotto becomes creamy. If you’re using a saucepan, move the pan around while stirring to help incorporate air. Try not to use heavy cream or regular cream to mantecare the risotto as it can make the dish heavy. Butter and cheese is enough to help make the risotto cream. You can use extra virgin olive oil to mantecare a risotto, but it can overpower the flavor and, in this case, it can mask the flavor of the guanciale.

Step Seven: Plating

You can plate as you please. For me, I typically use a ring mold and place it on a plate. I then add the risotto inside of the ring mold. Once it becomes circular, I take the plate and tap the bottom of the plate so it stays uniform. Afterwards, I add in the guanciale. 

Izzie Ramirez

Making risotto can tell you who you are as a cook, but it also allows you to learn and improve. That is why I love it so much because it tests your patience, it tests your confidence, and it tests your palate. If you can push yourself, learn, and be patient to create a risotto, you can pretty much make anything. Take your time, have fun, and mangiare (eat).