Tomato, Lemon, and Basil Risotto

Well, it took until the third week of August, but I’ve finally made something that just absolutely, unequivocally, and unabashedly screams summer. Maybe it’s because the wet spring forced the tomato harvest so late. Whatever the reason, summer’s “here” now! For me at least. Even though I leave Buffalo until December in just three short days and am so excited to go to London, I’m kind of disappointed that I’ll be missing the rest of the years’ farmers’ markets – especially those Niagara grapes. But after making this dinner – a bright and flavorful summer risotto – I’ll feel more content about leaving. It’s like something important has been accomplished. Closure.

Quite frankly, this is the best risotto I’ve ever made. It’s built upon layers and layers of in-season flavors and is succulent without being heavy or rich-feeling. And, for the first time, I made this risotto using a tip from Cook’s Illustrated; the risotto technique is altered so as to reduce constant stirring but still retain that creamy-yet-separate nature that risotto should embody. The main flavors? Tomato, then basil, then lemon – each complimenting each other perfectly, but the emphasis is truly on these summer-fresh tomatoes. I used a combination of Roma, Sweet Cinderella, and some organic heirloom medley I found at Dash’s (only necessary because too many of the former two were already eaten plain). But really, any combination of tomatoes will work in this dish – as long as they’re flavorful; to make it simple, just go down the local farmers’ market and ask the grower which their favorite tomato is that week.

As for the making of the risotto, it’ s typical, really: sweat some onions with kosher salt, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Throw in some diced and seeded tomatoes (or, if using small cherry-type tomatoes, halve and thrown in), cover, and let steam for about ten minutes. Then, after the rice is added and toasted, things change a bit: instead of adding ridiculously small increments of stock and wine, a whopping three cups of stock are added – enough that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom and thus doesn’t need to be constantly stirred. For all traditionalists (and to ensure proper texture), though, the risotto is finished with the classic “add and stir” method. Lastly, I left a significant amount of sliced tomato and basil chiffonade aside as a raw garnish. When mixed into the plated risotto, it adds a superbly fresh flavor to the dish and looks great as well.

 For the Tomato, Lemon, and Basil Risotto:

for about 6 main course servings; leftovers are great for risotto cakes

  •  3 cups Aborio rice
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 large Vidalia or Spanish onion, diced finely
  • 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock mixed with 6 cups of water, simmering
  • 1 lb assorted tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • ~20 basil leaves, sliced
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano or romano cheese, grated
  • kosher salt
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • dried oregano
  1. In a large dutch oven or very large sauté pan, melt 2 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the diced onion, pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (to taste), and a large pinch of salt and oregano; then sweat for 5-7 minutes until translucent and softened.
  2. Add all but 3/4 cup diced tomatoes, cover, and steam over lowest heat until tomatoes are very soft and have created a thin sauce.
  3. Add the rice and 1/2 of the basil and stir for 2-3 minutes until lightly toasted.
  4. Add 4 cups of chicken stock and water mixture. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes, all while stirring occasionally but not constantly.
  5. When thickened and nearly dry, add stock and water mixture in 1/2 cup increments until the rice is al dente.
  6. Turn off the heat, and vigorously stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and 1/2 cup of cheese. Then stir in the lemon zest and lemon juice.
  7. Taste for seasoning; it may need more salt.
  8. Plate in very hot (microwave for 1 minute or so) bowls and garnish with remaining sliced tomatoes and basil. Serve!
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1 Response to “Tomato, Lemon, and Basil Risotto”


  1. 1 Cody September 25, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    That sounds wonderful


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