When I think of the term “flavor affinity”, tomato and basil are two that immediately come to mind. Particularly during the summer months, I try to cook as much as possible with these items, whether they be components of a tomato, basil, mozzarella omelette or in the form of simple bruschetta. The simplicity and perfection this flavor duo cannot be denied, which is why I simply can’t get enough of the melding of them into a dish like this one.
While perusing the New York Times ‘Health’ section the other day on my phone (well worth the price of the subscription as I waste considerably less time on it), I stumbled upon this gem of a recipe. I tend to think of risotto as more of a winter dish, since it usually consists of heaps of chicken broth, but with fresh tomato, basil, and thyme this risotto is (seemingly!) lighter than most. Additionally, the fact that I can pick the herbs fresh from the garden outside add to the richness and enjoyableness of this dish. Three cheers for the bucolic Northern New Jersey suburbs.
I’ve come to the conclusion that whenever making a risotto dish, the labor expenditure is almost always worth the final outcome, and most definitely in this case. I added slightly more thyme than the recipe called for as well as additional white wine during the chicken broth mixing step. I also halved this recipe since I was cooking for 2-3 people and it came out just as well.
Tomato & Basil Risotto
Recipe taken from the NYTimes ‘Health’ column
Serves 4 to 6
7 cups well seasoned vegetable stock, garlic stock or chicken stock
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced white onion
Salt to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound tomatoes, grated
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry white or rosé wine, such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
1/2 pound additional sweet ripe tomatoes, finely diced (about ¾ cup)
1/4 cup slivered fresh basil
1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (1 to 2 ounces)
Put your stock or broth into a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over low heat, with a ladle nearby or in the pot. Make sure that it is well seasoned. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy skillet or a wide, heavy saucepan. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt, and cook gently until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, until the grains of rice are separate and beginning to crackle. Stir in the grated tomatoes, sugar, thyme, and salt to taste and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly and coat the rice, 5 to 10 minutes.
Add the wine and stir until it has evaporated and been absorbed by the rice. Begin adding the simmering stock, a couple of ladlefuls (about 1/2 cup) at a time. The stock should just cover the rice, and should be bubbling, not too slowly but not too quickly. Cook, stirring often, until it is just about absorbed. Add another ladleful or two of the stock and continue to cook in this fashion, adding more stock and stirring when the rice is almost dry. You do not have to stir constantly, but stir often and when you do, stir vigorously. When the rice is just tender all the way through but still chewy (al dente), in 20 to 25 minutes, it is done. Taste now and adjust seasoning. Add another ladleful of stock to the rice. Stir in the additional finely diced tomatoes, basil and Parmesan and remove from the heat. The mixture should be creamy (add more stock if it isn’t). Serve right away in wide soup bowls or on plates, spreading the risotto in a thin layer rather than a mound.
Moments before the gratifying, final mix