Sunday, August 16, 2009

Risotto caprese

Cherry tomatoes in bowl (I)

It's on virtually every Italian restaurant's summer menu, and one of the star ingredients is overflowing on a farmer's market table near you. Insalata caprese, that iconic antipasto, takes the delight of a fresh tomato and does it one better by adding two of the tomato's most natural partners: basil and cheese. It's a classic that's taken firm hold in the States, or at least in this corner of my state, and has become so common that it's almost cliché.

Red, yellow, orange, and green tomatoes

But like so many clichés--Beethoven's 5th symphony, anyone?--there's a good, solid grounding at the heart of its overwhelming popularity. What better distillation of summer's bounty than fresh, juicy tomatoes, soft mozzarella cheese, and sweet basil? Oh, you can dress it up with some balsamic vinegar and some black pepper or what have you, but all you really need is some salt and perhaps a bit of olive oil. Perfection.

Cherry tomatoes in glasses (II)Multi-colored heirloom tomatoesCherry tomatoes in glasses (I)

It's hard to imagine making insalata caprese even more sublime than it already is, but if there's a way, I think I've found it. The key--bear with me here--is rice. Not just rice, but lovely short-grain Italian rice that's been slowly cooked with leeks and broth and wine until it becomes a creamy, unctuous mess. In other words, risotto.

Leek ends

Making risotto in the middle of summer might sound crazy, and all I have to say about that is thank goodness for air conditioning! If I'm going to be standing around stirring a pot over a hot stove for half an hour when it's 85F or warmer outside, I'll be a much happier camper if there's a modern marvel blasting cool air into my kitchen. I typically feel guilty for running the air conditioning just so that I can be comfortable while cooking something that probably isn't very summer-friendly, but to be honest, I forgot all about the guilt when I tasted this risotto.

Summer risotto (I)

Folks, this one's a winner. I encourage--nay, I implore you to make the pilgrimage to your favorite farmer's market, buy yourself some ripe tomatoes and basil and cheese, and cook this risotto as soon as you possibly can. (Unless you don't care for risotto, in which case, you may picture me giving you my sternest look.) Make it, taste it, love it. The tomatoes, added in off the heat, don't cook so much as warm gently, swathed in risotto's viscous goodness.

You can serve it with a green salad if you like; but when you taste the risotto, in all likelihood you'll forget about everything else on the table. The real danger here is that you'll want to eat the whole pot yourself, which will risk a) the alienation of your dining companions, and b) the need for a dolly to wheel you from the table to your bed. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Heirloom tomatoes

Summer Risotto with Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella

Adapted from Annie Somerville's Everyday Greens
Serves 4... barely


  • 1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato of various colors, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup basil chiffonade, plus additional basil for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup sliced leeks, white and light green parts only, from 1 large or 3-4 small leeks
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic, from about 2 medium cloves
  • 1 cup arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups (roughly) stock (vegetable or chicken, as you wish)
  • fist-sized ball of fresh mozzarella, preferably buffalo mozzarella
  • grated Parmigiano Reggiano for serving (optional)


  1. Bring the stock to a simmer, and keep it warm on the stove.
  2. Combine the tomatoes, basil chiffonade, salt, and olive oil in a large bowl and toss to coat the tomatoes evenly. Set aside.
  3. Heat butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the leeks and cook until they are fragrant and softened, about 5 minutes.
  4. Toss in the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant.
  5. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.
  6. Add 1 cup stock and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has been almost fully absorbed and your spoon or spatula leaves a clear trail when drawn across the bottom of the pan. Repeat with another 1 cup stock, adjusting the heat to keep the pot at a bare simmer.
  7. When the second cup of stock has been absorbed, add the wine and cook, still stirring, until it has been absorbed as well.
  8. Continue cooking and stirring, adding stock 1/2 cup at a time, until the rice is al dente, creamy, and saucy. Remove the pot from the heat.
  9. Drain and pat dry the mozzarella. Pinch off rough, bite-sized pieces and drop them onto the risotto.
  10. Add the tomato-basil mixture to the risotto and cheese, and stir gently just so that it is evenly mixed.
  11. Serve sprinkled with additional basil chiffonade and grated Parmigiano.


bekah said...

Hey Annie,
I made this tonight, and it was awesome! One question...the recipe list has garlic, but the steps don't say where to add it. I didn't, and it was still great, but it would be nice to know for future reference:)

Anne said...

Good catch, Bekah, thanks! It's fixed now (as is the formatting on some of those images). Glad you liked it, even without the garlic. :)

Brave Sir Robin said...

Oh the produce envy I get every time I see your pictures!

Your comment about the AC made me chuckle. It's simply not a possibility around here!

Risotto looks wonderful . . . if I can find some decent tomatoes . . .

Anonymous said...

Why are you buying tomatoes at the farmer's market??? My garden is overflowing. Come and get them or have Katie and Libby bring them to you!


Bee said...

Although it already feels like autumn here, I'm going to revisit summer with this recipe. Sadly, I doubt that I can get such lovely tomatoes. Your pictures are wonderful!

Anne said...

Nancy, I might do just that this weekend! If nothing else, Katie and I will work out a long-distance tomato transfer. I'm looking forward to them--thank you!

Bee, I think this is a perfect recipe for fall-ish weather. It will certainly be more comfortable than cooking it when it's awfully hot outside! Here's hoping that you can get some tasty tomatoes. Have they already disappeared from your farmer's markets?