Cooking Off The Cuff: Tomato Risotto. Just Tomato Risotto.

08/29/2017 08:15 am ET Updated Aug 29, 2017

A couple of years ago I wrote about a risotto with tomatoes, but it wasn’t a one-hundred-per-cent tomato risotto. The other night, a dental incident (which, happily, did not rise to the level of an emergency and was expeditiously remedied) dictated a dinner that involved minimal, indeed optional, chewing. With excellent tomatoes in the house – big ones and small ones, both – a tomato risotto seemed like a good idea: it would be soft and delicious. And so it was.

I started with two fairly large red tomatoes and a double handful of cherry tomatoes; use whatever size and whatever kind are at their best in your garden or local farmers’ market – or in a store that deals in honestly grown and carefully handled tomatoes. There’s no point in using lousy or even blah tomatoes here: rich, savory flavors, lots of juice and a good balance between sweetness and acidity are vital in a dish based so completely on this single ingredient.

I blanched and peeled all the tomatoes; I chopped the big ones then put them through a food mill to remove the seeds and generate what amounted to pulpy tomato juice (and don’t get any ideas about substituting factory-brewed tomato juice). The cherry tomatoes I quartered and set aside sprinkled with salt and flavored with slivered fresh basil (sage would have been nice, and parsley okay; no herbs at all would have been another way to go).

The strained tomatoes I salted and brought to the simmer with a handful of basil leaves (use whatever herb you used with the cherry tomatoes); I then turned off the fire. When the basil had steeped for a few minutes I fished it out and discarded it. This is the basis of the “broth” with which the risotto would be made. For main-course portions for Jackie and me (this would also be a fine first course for four), I diluted the tomato pulp-juice with light vegetable stock and water to total four cups (just less than a liter), which is more than I needed, but good insurance. If I hadn’t had any vegetable stock in the fridge, I’d have used all water. I brought it to the simmer and tasted for salt: an undersalted broth will make a flat-tasting risotto.

From this point I made the risotto in the traditional all-stirring-all-the-time way, starting with half a medium onion sweated in butter, using about 2/3 cup (150 g) of vialone nano rice (other risotto rices are fine too) and substituting the dilute tomato juice for stock. I did not, however, add wine: there was enough acidity in the tomatoes, but if yours are sugar-sweet, follow the usual procedure.

When the rice was just this side of done (about 13 or 14 minutes for vialone nano rice; longer for other strains) I stirred in the reserved quartered cherry tomatoes with all their basil, juice and seeds and cooked, still stirring, for a minute more before covering the pan and letting the risotto rest off the heat for three minutes. At this point it might have needed a little more liquid but didn’t. I finished the risotto in the usual manner, vigorously beating in two tablespoons (30 g) of butter and a handful of grated parmesan; use more of either or both if you think it proper.

It was so tomato-y! But also rice-y and certainly not cloying: Every spoonful was fresh and bright, with just the right depth of savoriness. A marvelous risotto, but one that depended entirely on marvelous tomatoes. Next time you have some in the house, erase your other dinner plans and make it.

Note that I did not add pepper. I often don’t with tomato dishes, and I think twice when cooking many other things too. Salt is vital; pepper often is, but not always.

Intensely savory but not cloying: marvelous tomatoes make a marvelous risotto
Edward Schneider
Intensely savory but not cloying: marvelous tomatoes make a marvelous risotto
Two thirds cup of rice and a double handful of cherry tomatoes are the principal ingredients
Edward Schneider
Two thirds cup of rice and a double handful of cherry tomatoes are the principal ingredients
Aim for this density when diluting your tomato pulp-broth
Edward Schneider
Aim for this density when diluting your tomato pulp-broth
I stick to the traditional all-stirring-all-the-time method for making a risotto
Edward Schneider
I stick to the traditional all-stirring-all-the-time method for making a risotto
When the rice is nearing doneness, in go the quartered cherry tomatoes and basil
Edward Schneider
When the rice is nearing doneness, in go the quartered cherry tomatoes and basil
Almost done
Edward Schneider
Almost done
Done
Edward Schneider
Done
CONVERSATIONS