Not too long ago, a preparation of shrimp and orzo, a pasta somewhat reminiscent of rice, was featured on these pages. Satisfying, surely, but it was merely wheat acting. Enough of the imposture. This time we get the real deal, no looks-like. Honest-to-goodness rice, simmered with tomatoes and parmesan cheese until the whole sauce is savory with a bit of tang, filling yet light.
What achieves such culinary wonder? Why, it’s Tomato and Parmesan Risotto, a recipe Bon Appetit described in August 2019. The dish features a flavor more than a little reminiscent of pizza, though deeper and more thoroughly completing its mission. No need for an avalanche of toppings here, as grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a few grinds of pepper are sufficiently stunning.
Just a handful or so of ingredients makes miracles happen, as each achieves its full potential. The reason is a low and slow simmer, which gives everything a full half-hour or so to mingle and impress its neighbors. No “Minute” rice here. Good cooking takes time, and this does. After the first bite, and happiness blossoms, prior efforts seem laughably modest.
The rice itself hides another secret to success. Risotto foregoes more conventional varieties in favor of Arborio, pictured below:
As you can see, the grains are fuller and shorter than in types that are more customary. This, the Arborio uses to splendid advantage, as the fat little grains eagerly take in more flavor than would its leaner cousins. Here, at least, Gluttony isn’t one of the Seven Deadly Sins but it’s, well, the One Culinary Virtue.
Other rices have their applications, but Arborio is made for risotto. Vice-versa, too. Let the others imitate with their rice concoctions. Worthy entrants, no doubt, though today’s risotto claims the prize, thus becoming the archetype. Here it is. You’ve had the rest, now try the best.
Bold, huh? You’ll see and, better still, you’ll taste…
Tomato and Parmesan Risotto
- 5 cups chicken broth (*1)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (*2)
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg, optional (*3)
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- salt, to taste
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup finely-grated parmesan, plus more for serving (*4)
- freshly-ground pepper, for service
Pour the broth into a small stockpot and place it over a medium-high flame. Once it just begins to bubble, reduce the flame to medium-low and maintain a low simmer until ready to use.
Meanwhile, place a large saucepan over a medium flame and add the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and golden, about ten minutes. Stir in the garlic and continue agitating until it’s softened, about a minute.
Introduce the tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until it thickens and darkens slightly, about two minutes. Add the tomatoes and nutmeg (if using) and cook, stirring occasionally, until some of the tomatoes burst, about three minutes.
Stir in the rice, season with salt, and reduce flame to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, until some grains are translucent, about three minutes. Ladle in two cups of the broth and simmer, motivating occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed, about ten minutes.
Ladle in another two cups of the broth and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is cooked and most of the broth has been absorbed, about fifteen minutes.
Contribute the butter and a cup of the cheese and cook, agitating constantly, until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about four minutes. Taste, and add more salt if needed.
Divide into four serving bowls. Grate more cheese atop, grind in some black pepper, and serve.
1 – If possible, do yourself and your guests a favor and use homemade chicken stock. It requires more initial effort, definitely, than does buying something at the supermarket. Make a huge batch, freeze individual portions, then enjoy a season of summoning sublimity at will.
2 – What do you say, recipe, wouldn’t a large shallot be better and much more refined?
Yes, it would be. OK, let’s do this!
3 – An option I definitely chose. The nutmeg excites the tomato’s sweetness while taming (slightly) its sharper notes.
4 – You’re going to pay a little more for real parmesan cheese, thus why not use the best, Parmigiano Reggiano, the “King of Cheeses?” It’s earned the “regal” title for a reason!