Tomato & basil risotto

Risotto is usually a creamy dish, and the first time I ever tasted a tomato risotto (in a restaurant) that just made my mind up: tomato has no place in a refined, elegant risotto whose flavour needs to scream subtlety to your tastebuds. It was naff – just like someone had stirred a jar of shop-bought pasta sauce through some undercooked rice. I didn’t return to the idea for years, until one day I had a craving for a fusion between creamy risotto and tangy tomatoey pasta sauce…

This dish is a riff of my tomato basil cream pasta sauce recipe, but anchored by a traditional caramelised onion risotto base. The combination of pasta sauce and risotto recipes sees to it that the lightness of tomato and basil can be transformed into a comfort-food meal that’s still refined and elegant.

Here’s how to knock up a humble-looking risotto that will make your tastebuds sing…

Flavour: Savoury & slightly tangy – comfort-foody, yet elegant

Serves: 4 as a main meal (and if you have any left over, just chuck it in the fridge and make arancini with it the next day!)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 8 cups vegetable stock (see here for a from-scratch recipe that will see to it that your risotto tastes perfect)
  • 1 large brown onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt – add more to taste if you like it salty
  • 1 tablespoon sugar – I use rapadura or palm sugar, but raw cane sugar would do just fine
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1kg ripe or overripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped (see here for my tomato-peeling tip)
  • Half cup of white wine – don’t skip this unless you’re teetotal (if it’s good wine, save it for drinking – you can cook with a bottom shelf wine, so long as it’s dry wine, not sweet wine – I’d use a sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, riesling, or classic dry white)
  • 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast – this gives it a slightly cheesy flavour, so use as much or as little as you like the taste of
  • Generous grind of black pepper – to your own taste
  • 2 tablespoons non-dairy spread (I use nuttelex)
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese substitute (I use Cheezly, as it has a pretty authentic flavour and melts in well)
  • small bunch of basil, leaves only, coarsely chopped (most folks would use Italian basil for this, but I favour Thai, as it has a more complex flavour)

Directions: 

  1. Finely slice your onion, and sautee it in a large frying pan (I actually use a wok, and it works great even for risotto) on a high heat with the olive oil until it turns translucent
  2. Pop your stock on the stove on a high heat while you’re cooking those onions off
    • Amateur tip: make your own stock – here’s a recipe that’ll turn out great stock every time 😉
  3. Turn the heat on your onions down to medium and add half of the salt – sautee until slightly browned
  4. Mince your garlic, and stir it into your onions
    • Amateur tip: see here for how to mince your garlic to a fine paste – it’s so simple, you’ll never go back to chunky chopped garlic!
  5. Add the sugar to your onions, stir well, and turn heat down to low – sautee until a deep brown colour
  6. Pour in the balsamic vinegar, and continue to sautee on the lowest heat possible for another 5 minutes while you prepare and assemble the rest of the ingredients
  7. Toss in your chopped tomatoes, stir through, and add the rest of the salt
  8. Cook tomato mixture over medium heat for 5 minutes or until it is reduced by a third
  9. Stir the arborio rice into your caramelised onion and tomato mixture, whack the heat back up high again, and pour in a cup of stock and your half cup of white wine, stir gently
  10. Once the liquid has reduced to next to nothing and the alcohol smell has gone, now you’re cooking – you need to stand beside your risotto as it cooks like a loyal guardian, stirring it regularly, and adding the stock a cup at a time (no need to be precise with this – just make sure you do actually do it gradually) until all of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked through
    • You’ll find the dedication to constant stirring a meditative act for sure 😛 (no, seriously – if you struggle to meditate, take this as your cue!) Your risotto will take 15-20 minutes to cook to perfection (use your discretion and don’t follow dogmatics who tell you “16 minutes; no more, no less”, because they don’t know your stove and the quality of your temperature control like you do 😉 )
  11. Once your rice is cooked through but still al dente, turn the heat down to low and stir in your nutritional yeast and basil
  12. Take off the heat and sprinkle your butter over the top of your resting risotto in small blobs; this is also when you add your non-dairy cheese; grind as much black pepper over the top as you like, and leave it for a minute
  13. When that minute is up, stir it all well in and you’ll be ready to serve
  14. Your risotto should be creamy in texture, with a silky-smooth mouthfeel, and it should be wet enough to spread across your plate when you serve it up, but not so wet that it’s soupy – enjoy! ❤

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