Pressure Cooker Risotto with Kale Pesto

Something discordant this way comes.  It happens in every kitchen, if you cook together long enough.  Jody and I did a Dagwood and Blondie over today’s post, Risotto with Kale Pesto, made in a pressure cooker.  My willingness to fudge things a bit for a weeknight dinner versus the cruel exactitude of a restaurant chef.   As Jody not so delicately summed up our contretemps: “You’re the photographer. [Ouch!]  I’m the chef, and my reputation is on the line.”  Guess who got the broom in the back of the head? 

Making risotto the ordinary way, adding a bit of hot stock at a time, gives you more control over the texture, at least in the initial stages, than you have with a pressure cooker, where the condition of the rice at any moment is a mystery (because the lid of the PC is locked in place).  The way around this is to undercook the risotto in the pressure cooker, then spend a few minutes finishing the risotto the old-fashioned way, stirring in stock just until it reaches the right texture.  Our disagreement arose because I’ve been making risotto in the PC for years, and Jody offhandedly informed me that while my PC risotto has tasted delicious, it could use a bit of work in the texture department.  Ahem?!  In a word, it wasn’t as firm al dente as a chef would like.  Jody made this recipe on five separate occasions before she was satisfied.  Each time, I assured her, it was delicious (even our downstairs neighbors thought it was delicious).  Too soft, she kept murmuring, until attempt No. 5.

In the spirit of kitchen comity, I defer to Jody’s opinion.  The recipe not only produces a risotto that tastes good, but passes the firmness texture test.  In the culinary realm, the one with the toque still rules.  For my part, I can’t wait until she picks up a camera.  Enjoy.  Ken

Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-2



  • 8 ounces dinosaur kale (lacinato)
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 1 clove garlic grated on a microplane
  • ½ cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional, this was an after thought)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 cup)
  • 1½ cups risotto rice
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 2¾  – 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese + an extra piece for shaving over the  finished risotto


  1. Strip the leaves off the stems of the kale.  Rinse them clean.  Take one leaf and julienne it into 1/8-inch strips to make ¼ cup.  Sprinkle the julienned strips with a pinch of salt.  Set aside for finishing the dish.  Coarsely chop the remaining leaves.  Put the leaves in a pressure cooker with 1 cup water and ½ teaspoon salt.  Stir to combine well.
  2. Cover with the lid and lock in place.  Set the pot over high heat until it reaches high pressure, then turn the heat as low as possible to maintain high pressure and cook for 3 minutes.  At the end of 3 minutes, cool the pot under running water, and when the pressure releases, remove the lid.
  3. OR, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the kale and cook at a boil for  until tender, about 7 minutes.
  4. Drain the kale, then cool in a bowl of ice water.  While kale is cooling, rinse and dry the pressure cooker.  Drain the kale, squeeze out most of the water and transfer to a blender.  Add the olive oil and puree until smooth.  Add the almonds and garlic, then puree until the almonds are finely chopped, adding a few drops of water if necessary to keep the pesto moving in the blender.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the pecorino and optional hot red pepper flakes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Cover and refrigerate.
  5. Heat the butter in the uncovered pressure cooker over low heat.  Add the onion and cook uncovered until meltingly tender and translucent, about 5 minutes.  While the onion is cooking, heat the stock, either in a microwave or a small pot.  It just needs to be hot, not boiling.
  6. Add the rice and cook 3 minutes, stirring so the fat coats all the rice.  Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until most of it has been absorbed.  Add  2 cups stock.  Reserve the remaining stock to finish the dish.
  7. Cover the pot with the lid and lock in place.  Cook over high heat and to bring to high pressure, then turn the heat to low, and cook at high pressure for 4 minutes.  At the end of 4 minutes, cool the pot under running water, and when the pressure releases, remove the lid.
  8. Season the rice with salt and pepper.  Add ½ cup of the remaining stock and continue to cook the rice over medium heat, stirring constantly for 3 to 4 minutes or until the rice is nice and creamy.  Let sit 2 minutes without stirring, then add a bit more stock to loosen it up.  Stir in the grated cheese and the julienned kale.
  9. Serve in warm bowls topped with a spoonful of kale pesto and a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-3 Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-5 Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-6 Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-7 Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-8 Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-9 Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-10 Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-11 Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-12

Creamy goodness.

Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-13

Note the individual grains, not only intact, but with a bit of bite at the center.

Jody Notes:  

I learned to make risotto over 30 years ago, practicing and practicing until I got it right.  Creamy, with a tiny bite at the center of each grain of rice.  I’m careful about the heat and I always stir gently, coddling the rice.  You want to tease the starch out of the rice with a little liquid at a time so that a creamy emulsion develops, enfolding intact grains of rice.  Trying to shorten the process by increasing the heat or  adding too much liquid too fast invites  disaster.  The rice can separate from the liquid, or the grains can break apart altogether.  

So you understand why the thought of making risotto in a pressure cooker gave me more than a little clench in the pit in my stomach.  PC risotto was Ken’s idea, but to be fair, he did encourage me to say NO if I were uncomfortable posting about it.  (Chefs worry about this stuff.)  

Fortunately, a slightly saner interior voice took charge.  This wasn’t a replay of Top Chef Masters–it was our home.  In fact, the judges who mattered most–family and friend–thought it tasted great.  So here it is, five versions later.  Nobody agrees on the perfect risotto texture anyway, only on an awful overcooked one.  Venetians like their risotto soupy; the Milanese prefer it al dente, with less liquid, and some (Americans and Italians) like it cooked through.  You decide.  You can, I discovered, overcook risotto in a pressure cooker.  But it’s easy, as this recipe demonstrates, to take care not to let that happen.  If you love making risotto the traditional way, keeping on doing it.  If, however, you’re squeezed for time and you have a pressure cooker, it’s a great technique to have in your pocket.  No one is going to think less of you (or me) for using it.  Perfection, I’m told, is in the mouth of the eater.    

Risotto with Kale Pesto-TGF-14

Go ahead; click on something to see it with a little more detail.  Left and right arrow keys will move you through the photos.

29 thoughts

  1. You are too funny Ken. No wonder Jody is always so happy. And I say “Uncle”. I’ll buy a PC when we get home. I’ve been afraid to make risotto as well, so here we go again, new directions courtesy of The Garum Factory.

    • Hurray! Jody said to me the other night, “You know the reason we’re doing all these recipes is to force Chip and Keith to buy a pressure cooker.” “Uh, yeah, whatever you say, honey.” It was a little odd, but hey, never argue with a woman with a knife in her hand who’s humming, “Killing me softly…” ken

      P.S. Not just risotto, but kale and artichokes and sweet potatoes, etc. etc.

  2. I still haven’t bought a pressure cooker but, on a more positive note, today I finally found lacinato kale!! I was beginning to wonder if I ever would. I can’t wait to give this recipe a try. Thanks to the both of you for sharing your recipe.

    • Hi, Mimi–Jody’s a demon in the kitchen. After almost 30 years of marriage and a book together we’ve learned how to work pretty seamlessly. Sometimes I have to remind her (gently) that we’re not behind a hot line with orders backed up like planes over Kennedy and that we can slow down a bit. By the way, we both concluded that we like the kale pesto stirred into the risotto at the end, rather than just plopped on top. Thanks for stopping by. ken

    • Hi, Sophie–Thanks for the praise. On balance Jody and I decided we prefer stirring some pesto into the risotto just before serving. Kale makes a meaty, gratifying variation on the traditional basil, just right for this time of year, I think. ken

    • Hi, Chara–I’m glad you like our blog. It’s very sweet of you to nominate us, even if we don’t go through the awards process. Your blog is great and I’d recommend anyone with an interest in a South Indian perspective, especially vegetarians, check out your blog. Thanks. ken

      • Ken, You both write an amazing blog, it was my pleasure to share your space with others. thanks for liking my space, I hope it gives others ideas on how to incorporate a southern indian sensibility in cooking even if they are not vegetarian or looking for primarily south indian food. I get tons of ideas from yours.. thanks, charu

  3. Never thought of trying risotto in a pressure cooker – might have to try it! I love working in the kale, something I can’t seem to get enough of these days. But that’s what’s so wonderful about risotto – you can make it so many ways!

    • You never thought of making risotto in a pressure cooker because your life is just one leisurely dance from one activity to another. :-) Actually, it’s great, once you work it out, and you’re not too much of a culinary fascist about it. ken

    • Don’t be so modest–I like both your photos and your recipes. Regarding you and your husband (and Jody and I), learning how to cook together is a skill in itself. Try writing a book together and sleeping with your co-author–that’s when things get challenging. :-) ken

  4. Pingback: Resilience | Slice of Mid-Life

    • Hi Alison–Thanks for the link. You lead an interesting cooking life. The chicken and plantains recipe immediately caught my eye since I’ve been looking for savory ways of eating them that are alternatives to just frying them. Thanks. Ken

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