Warm and comforting tomato risotto.

I know, I know … risotto is just SO hard to make. Actually, it’s EASY to make at home and difficult to make in a restaurant (my opinion, certainly).

Risotto is a dish that’s in regular rotation in our kitchen. In the spring, we make it with asparagus, peas and a bit of lemon zest. In summer, we trick out a batch of risotto with diced smoked or grilled chicken, peas and fresh tarragon. Fall? Try cubed butternut squash and toasted hazelnuts. Risotto is not just easy to make, it’s imminently flexible; once you’ve got the basic technique down, you can add whatever your heart desires. So here’s an easy risotto recipe; we’ll be posting others so you can get as comfortable with this fabulous dish as we are.

Faced with a glut of cherry tomatoes last week, Rob whipped up a risotto enhanced with halved cherry tomatoes and the last of the garden’s basil. At the end, he stirred in a generous sprinkling of pizza seasoning from The Spice House in Chicago. I’ll admit: I was skeptical. But the seasoning added a gorgeous red hue and an amazing depth of flavor that transformed the dish. It became the perfect comfort food: starchy, cheesy, flavorful.

risotto with cherry tomatoes and basil

1 onion, chopped
olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/4 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
4 cups chicken broth (make this vegetarian by using good quality vegetable stock)
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup slivered fresh basil
salt and pepper
seasoning of your choice: pizza blend, Italian blend (optional)
generous pile of grated Parmesan, about 1 cup

Place chicken broth in a saucepan and warm over medium heat; then reduce heat to low and keep at a simmer. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat; add onion and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes, then add a pinch of salt. Add rice and stir to coat with oil, cook about 1 to 2 minutes until a white spot appears in the rice grains. Add wine and stir until it’s mostly evaporated.

Ladle a scoop of broth into the pan with the rice and bring to a boil, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. When liquid has mostly absorbed, add another ladleful of broth. Continue cooking and adding broth. You want the risotto to be “thirsty” for another addition of broth: Scrape the spoon along the bottom of the pan; if it leaves a blank trail behind, then it’s ready for more broth. The whole process of cooking and adding broth will take 25 minutes or so. Keep stirring. You want the rice to be al dente like pasta, with just a bit of firmness—so taste it.

When you’ve added the last of the broth, stir in the cherry tomatoes and basil; cook for about 2 minutes. Add Parmesan; season with salt, pepper and any other herbs you feel like throwing in. Spoon into warm bowls, top with more grated Parmesan.