Risotto was a new dish to me in the 90s. I think the first I heard of it was during an episode of Seinfeld when they spent a long time talking about the risotto at a certain restaurant. Not long after that, Cooking Light magazine ran an article on risotto, with several recipes.
Arborio rice was impossible to find when we first started making this, at least in rural eastern Pennsylvania, where we lived at the time. We had to use medium or short grain grocery store rice, which was good, but not great. Take the time to pick up Arborio rice – it will make all the difference in your risotto.
This recipe started out with the Cooking Light version, but I have changed it so much over the years that I probably wouldn’t recognize the long-lost original recipe. I have gradually added more olive oil than the original recipe, but I don’t think I have moved beyond the ranks of healthy cooking. I’m not sure what else I have changed – probably less basil, more mozzarella, more Parmesan, shallots instead of onions and more tomatoes.
The secret to good risotto (other than using Arborio rice) is adding the broth in several parts and stirring often. You really don’t have to stir constantly. Rich will probably fight me on this one – he insists constant stirring is necessary. You will get a creamier end result if you stir constantly, but if you are juggling the rest of dinner preparations, kids, pets or a ringing phone, you won’t ruin things if you have to step away from the stove briefly, or even repeatedly. You do have to stir as often as you can, though, or you end up with rice cooked in chicken broth instead of creamy, saucy risotto.
We love making this when we have access to fresh garden tomatoes in the summer, but we also make it in the winter with grocery store cherry or grape tomatoes. You can use other tomatoes too, but we think the smaller tomatoes have more flavor in the sad months when tomatoes are out of season. In the summer, use whatever tomatoes you can get and it will be fabulous.
Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Risotto
From The Cook’s Life
You can use fresh basil, if you prefer, but we prefer dried. The dried basil provides just a background note of flavor and really lets the tomatoes shine.
5 cups chicken broth, preferably low sodium*
1½-2 cups tomatoes, diced (or halved, if using cherry or grape tomatoes)
1 teaspoon dried basil
black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 shallots or one small onion, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup diced part-skim mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese for serving
*Use canned broth, a flavoring paste like Better Than Bouillon mixed with water, or homemade broth, if you have it. Avoid bouillon cubes – they are too salty.
Heat chicken broth in a saucepan until hot, but not boiling. Lower heat to medium low, and cover until ready to use. Combine tomatoes, basil, black pepper and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots or onion and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté a minute or two. Add rice and sauté for several minutes. Add wine and stir until absorbed. Add hot broth, a cup at a time, stirring each addition until almost absorbed before adding more. Rice should start to get creamy and soft after 15-20 minutes. Taste rice to see if it is al dente, but not crunchy. If rice is still crunchy, add more broth or water and continue to cook for about 5 more minutes.
When rice is al dente, add tomato mixture and continue to stir and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in mozzarella cheese. Let stand, uncovered for 5 minutes. Stir to mix in melted cheese. Serve with lots of Parmesan cheese. Reheats well, though it will be thicker when leftover.