Tricolor Risotto

Having gone green for St. Patrick’s Day, I had to do something colorful to commemorate today, St. Joseph’s Feast Day. So, using pesto and tomato for color, we’re going to make tricolor risotto, a dish that features the green, white, and red of the Italian flag.

At its heart, this is a trio of simple risotto dishes. None of the usual ingredients — mushrooms, saffron, squash, etc. — are used because they would detract from the three colors. (Presentation, presentation, presentation!) You start cooking the rice in one pot and, when the time is right, the contents are split into thirds. Two of the thirds are then colored with either pesto or tomato paste and each pot finishes cooking on its own. It really is that simple and the resultant dish is a conversation starter, to be sure. More importantly, however, behind each of the 3 colors is a delicious dish of risotto.

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Tricolor Risotto Recipe

total time: approx.  45 minutes


  • 8 cups chicken stock (for a meat-free diet, vegetable stock may be substituted)
  • 6 tbsp butter, divided
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine (optional)
  • 3 – 4 tbsp pesto
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • additional paremesan cheese for serving



  1. Heat stock in a sauce pan. Adjust heat to keep it hot but not boiling.
  2. Add 3 tbsp of butter to a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 8 – 10 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for about 1 minute more.
  3. Add rice and stir until well-coated. Toast the rice for about 2 minutes before adding the wine. Stir frequently until the wine is absorbed.
  4. Add enough hot stock to cover the rice, about two ladles. Keep stirring the mixture and, when the liquid is absorbed, add another ladle or 2 of stock. Continue stirring, adding more stock when “dry,” for 10 minutes.
  5. After 10 minutes, place a third of the rice mixture into each of 2 additional sauce pans over medium heat. Add the pesto to 1 pan and the tomato paste to the other.
  6. You now have 3 saucepans of rice to maintain by adding stock, stirring until “dry,” and then adding more stock.
  7. Continue cooking all 3 batches until the rice is al dente, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add 1 tbsp of butter and 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese to each of the 3 pans. Mix well. Taste test for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.
  8. Serve on a platter with the white risotto in its center, flanked by the red and green versions.

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The variations for this dish involve substituting freshly chopped parsley and basil — or even cooked chopped spinach — for the pesto. I always opt for pesto because I’m sure to have some in my fridge or freezer. As for the red side of the flag, a little marinara sauce can be used in place of the tomato paste.

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23 thoughts on “Tricolor Risotto

    • I’m sorry. I’ve never seen that movie but if food is featured I’m going to have to look it up. If I remember correctly, this recipe came to our family from one of Zia’s magazines. Taken separately, I find that pesto or tomato-flavored risotto is a welcome change from the “standard” version. Put the 3 flavors together and the result is a great dish, to be sure.


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  2. How great is this dish? So pretty. I’ve been cooking lots of risotto lately because it helps calm the nerves and mine are a mess right now. Do you have any tips for me? I’m going to blog about risotto and refer everyone to your blog. I have no right to even say the word, I’m so not Italian. I wondered if it mattered if you added the wine before the broth? I know toasting the rice is a crucial step…


    • Risotto is a great dish. It took me years to get over my fear and try to make some. From what I’ve learned, getting the rice to give up its starch is the key and, to do that, you must stir it, almost constantly. I use arborio rice because is is plump and quite starchy. Like most, I always add some white wine just after toasting the rice. By adding it early, the rice will add flavor to the background of the dish. If you add wine later in the process, its flavor will be far more prominent, even over-powering. That’s not what you’d want to do.
      I hope this helps.


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    • That’s it exactly! You can, of course ad more pesto and tomato paste for more flavor and richer colors but I prefer it lighter, in both taste and color. Thanks for the compliment.


    • Thanks, John. You can vary the depth of the colors and flavors easily. Just add more pesto or tomato paste/sauce. No matter how much you use, though, your dinner guests are sure to love it. 🙂


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  6. The wine is absolutely mandatory for me…ha ha! I love this simple tri-coloured risotto. I’m going to make it over the weekend. I am so hungry right now…I can hear my stomach rambling. If pictures were plates of food I would gobble everything right now. That slow cooker beef is looking so good I have to come back after eating something. I can’t stand looking at it knowing I can’t even eat it. Thanks John for sharing. Did you finish your project? i haven’t read your posts in a while but I’ll be popping in and out. Have a lovely week, hugs to Max. Best wishes!


    • Hello, Liz. I’m glad you liked both posts. The risotto is fun to serve. Who’d expect to see the flag in rice? The cheeks is a great recipe, perfect fare for a slow cooker. The meat is so tender and succulent. You couldn’t ask for more.
      Max is fine and has already headed for bed. I’ll be there momentarily. I hope you and your family are all well. I hope this Winter hasn’t proved to severe for you all. Have a great weekend!


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