It happens the same way every year: you wait (and wait, and wait) for bright red, sun-warmed, bursting-with-flavor summer tomatoes. Basil shows up first: the small-leafed, pale-green, delicate basil of June. You buy some, just to inhale the heady fragrance, and dream of tomatoes. Then, sometime in July, you see the first pints of cherry tomatoes at the farmer’s market: they cost a fortune, and they’re not all that sweet yet, but still: tomatoes. Your spine tingles, your mouth waters: tomatoes. They’re so very close. Then, slowly at first, but gathering speed, like a snowball rolling downhill: TOMATOES. All of a sudden you are drowning in them: quarts and quarts of bright yellow-orange Sungolds, piles of fat, cracked greeny-brown heirlooms, bowls of dark red plum tomatoes and fat, red, juicy beefsteaks. It’s a tomato avalanche.
When the tomato avalanche starts rolling down on our house, it’s easy for me to get a little tunnel-vision. I get so focused on preserving the tomato bounty, to make sure that I can enjoy tomatoes in their many glorious forms throughout the year, that I can forget to enjoy them now: to eat as many farm-fresh, just-picked, sun-warmed tomatoes as I can fit into my day, before they leave us again for a whole year. I’m trying to be more mindful of the now this year: the pantry shelves are well-stocked from the last couple of years worth of diligent preserving, so I can enjoy a more balanced approach to seasonal eating, a happy combination of eating & enjoying now and preserving & enjoying later.
One of my favorite “now” tomato recipes is a classic bruschetta: tomatoes, garlic, shallot and basil, just a little olive oil to marry everything together, and an hour or two of marinating on the counter for the flavors to blend. Piled on crostini, spread over pasta, or scooped up with crusty bread while you sip a chilled pinot grigio: it’s perfect. The best summer tomatoes, however, produce a lot of juice; and the best summer bruschetta leaves behind lots of rich, garlickly, basil-infused, summer tomato bruschetta juice. It’s so delicious that I can’t bear to throw it out, and winter usually finds my freezer with at least a few pint jars of bruschetta-juice goodness. But in the spirit of enjoying the now this summer, I decided to use the juice and leftovers from the latest bruschetta batch to make dinner: namely, bruschetta risotto.
Risotto is one of those recipes, like homemade pasta or jam, that everyone thinks is laborious and difficult, but really isn’t. It is your basic peasant dish: cheap & cheerful, with the primary ingredients being stock & rice, but adapts well to almost anything you want to toss in there, from asparagus & mushrooms to Mandarin orange. This version is a bit unique, in that you add the bruschetta juice to the stock, such that the lovely bruschetta flavor permeates the entire dish, allowing the vegetables to be added at the very end of the cooking time, thereby maintaining their fresh summer color & texture as much as possible. For a dish that I made up on the fly, I will say that this turned out quite well: I wasn’t sure that the acidic tomato juice would be absorbed well by the rice without adversely affecting the texture, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much bruschetta flavor permeated the rice and how wonderfully the texture turned out in the end. And I love that I got double-duty of a batch of bruschetta and spared the already over-burdened chest freezer from one more jar. Eating in the now: remind of this next August, will you?
- 2 cups bruschetta, juice drained & reserved (about 2/3 cup juice), or bruschetta juice amended with extra tomatoes (see Options)
- 4 cups stock (I used corn cob)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small shallot, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 and 1/2 cups Arborio rice
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 3/4 to 1 cup grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan, plus extra for serving
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- In a small saucepan, combine the stock and drained bruschetta juice (add about 1 tsp salt if your stock is homemade and salt-free) and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat and maintain at a simmer.
- In a medium, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or stockpot, heat the olive oil until shimmering, but not smoking. Add the shallot, stir and sauté until just softened, 1 – 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add rice, stir to coat in oil and sauté, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until wine is absorbed, about 1 minute.
- Add 1 cup of the hot stock to the rice, stirring constantly. Allow the rice/stock mixture to cook at a lively simmer, stirring to prevent sticking. The pace of cooking risotto is key: cook too quickly, and the stock will boil off before the rice can absorb it, but cook too slowly and the rice becomes mushy and glutinous instead of al dente. Within 3 – 5 minutes, 1 cup of stock should be mostly absorbed and you should need to add more to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add additional stock, in 1/2-cup increments, stirring between additions and letting the rice absorb almost all of the stock before adding more, about 3 minutes per addition, for a total of approximately 20 minutes.
- When you’re down to the last 1/2 cup of stock, add the drained bruschetta and stir well. Cook, stirring, as the vegetables soften somewhat and release more juice; stir constantly, and when the tomato juice is nearly all absorbed, add the last 1/2 cup of stock. Cook, stirring, until the stock is mostly absorbed. Taste: if rice is creamy but nicely al dente, remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese (if not, lower heat and cook, stirring, for a few more minutes). Add salt & pepper and taste again. Serve immediately, garnished with slivered basil and grated cheese.
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer.
- For a version that uses fresh summer tomatoes, but does not require bruschetta, see summer tomato risotto with mint.
- I always use wine as the first liquid addition to my risotto, but it is not necessary: if you prefer to cook without wine, simply skip that step and go straight to stock.
- I used the leftovers of a batch of classic bruschetta that was mostly garlic and basil-flecked juice, with not a lot left in the way of tomato; therefore, I diced two meaty tomatoes, tossed them in the bruschetta liquid and let them marinate for 5 minutes or so, then drained and added the juice to the stock. Feel free to do the same if you have more juice than fruit in your leftover batch.
Risotto is best eaten fresh: however, store any leftovers refrigerated for up to 3 days, then make risotto cakes!