I’m sure if you read this blog regularly you’ll have got the message that I LOVE risotto. I make risotto at least once a week. It’s such a perfect dish for a single diner: simple to cook and endlessly versatile. You can put so many things into a risotto; it can be wintry or summery; spring or autumn. Tonight’s risotto, despite a winter return and flurries of snow in the air, is, I have to admit, quite summery. But then food is a brilliant way to brighten up a grey day!
I had a bit of a glut of baby plum tomatoes due to them being on special offer in Waitrose and therefore irresistible to me. I’d wanted to try out the Acquerello rice given to me a the La Credenza Food Event last week – a whopping big 1kg tin of it!
One of the first risottos I ever made was a tomato and spinach one; a recipe from a Gary Rhodes book, and I made it frequently for years and years. So the idea of putting tomato in wasn’t new. I wanted a cheese a bit different to the usual Parmesan though. I’ve experimented successfully with other Italian cheeses in risotto recently – Taleggio and Gorgonzola – and have liked their creamy softness melting into the hot rice. Tonight I decided to use mozzarella: a classic combination of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil in Insalata Caprese – a salad found in most Italian restaurants.
Marcella Hazan, that great Italian cookery writer, has a rice dish with fresh basil and mozzarella cheese in her wonderful The Classic Italian Cookbook. Her recipe isn’t a risotto as such but rather boiled rice to which she adds the cheese and basil at the end, but she describes it as ‘another example of how, in Italian cooking, simple handling of the simplest ingredients results in a dish interesting in texture, lovely to look at, and, best of all, delicious.’
For a detailed description of making risotto, see Mushroom & Taleggio Risotto. Tonight’s dish was easily put together. First of all I put the baby plum tomatoes on a vine in a small ovenproof dish, coated in olive oil, seasoned with some salt and pepper and put in a hot oven for about 20 minutes till nicely softening and beginning to burst.
I put some of my frozen homemade stock cubes in a small saucepan to melt and come to the boil. I finely chopped half a medium onion and gently cooked in olive oil in a pan until translucent. I then added half a cup of rice and stirred to coat each grain of rice with the oil. I then added a good glug of dry vermouth (or use white wine).
Once this had been absorbed by the rice I started adding the hot stock a little at a time. Go on adding stock and stirring frequently – to gain that nice creamy risotto texture – until the rice is cooked but still has a bit of a bite: al dente. You want a nice creamy, loose texture. Now add the tomatoes, removed from the vine (keep back 1 or 2 for serving). Add half a ball of buffalo mozzarella broken into small pieces and some fresh basil leaves roughly chopped.
Squash the tomatoes down a bit with a spoon or fork and then very gently stir everything together, pop a lid on the pan, and leave for 5 minutes so the cheese starts to melt. Spoon the risotto on to a warm plate or shallow bowl to serve.
Decorate with a reserved roasted tomato and a small sprig of basil. It was a delicious risotto. The tomato brought a freshness but also sweetness, as did the basil.
There was a depth of flavour from the good stock and the mozzarella melted delightfully into stringy tangles of delicious cheese. The rice was excellent: there was that classic risotto creaminess but each grain held its shape and was a separate entity. Luckily for me a 1kg tin is very large so I’ve got plenty more to go! The real beauty of the dish is its simplicity: basically only rice, tomatoes and cheese but with that wonderful Italian elegance and style that turns the simplest ingredients into something special.