Tangy tastiness with the comforting ooze of a simple risotto
This is one of my new favourite suppers - and as proved last night, perfect for scaling up to a dinner party for six. I always struggle to think of dinner party worthy vegetarian dishes, but because this is so stunning to look at (I renamed it Rudolf the Red Nosed Risotto for the night, because Christmas, natch) and so amazingly tasty, I can heartily recommend it. Oh, and it's the perfect dish for 'putting on the back burner' if drinks and nibbles over-run etc as the risotto can be made earlier and finished off in moments and the tomatoes can sit in a warm oven just getting tastier and tastier ad infinitum.
You will need
For the tomatoes:
1 large tomato per person - non-negotiable this one I'm afraid! I used Jack Hawkins tomatoes from Waitrose.
Lots of garlic cloves, some peeled, some not - but a peeled one at least per tomato
Fresh basil and thyme
For the risotto:
1 onion (size depends on how much you're cooking)
1 bulb of fennel (I found a large one was enough for six of us)
90g risotto rice per person
Splash white wine
Good veggie bouillon stock - double the volume as weight of rice
Salt and pepper
Let's start with the tommies. Set oven to 180C (this will mean a cooking time of about 45mins-1hr, you can go low and slow if it suits other things being cooked).
Take your large tomatoes and cut out the stalks and core with a small paring knife. In the hole that's left, sprinkle in some rock salt then push in some fresh basil leaves and a clove of peeled garlic. Lightly score the skin of the tomatoes on their base, then place the tomato upside down in an oven dish and carry on until the amount of tommies you want to do is done. As you can see, I easily rolled this out for six.
Throw in some more cloves of garlic to the pan, lots of fresh thyme and liberally drizzle with olive oil. Go bold, none of this will be wasted later. Season and pop in the oven.
Now for the risotto - nothing to scare the horses here, but if you are doing it for six then you will be using a full 500g bag of risotto rice and you will need a big saucepan! Start by finely chopping the onion and fennel. You may only need a half or a quarter of a bulb of fennel if you're only doing this for two; I used a good-sized bulb for six of us. Set aside any fronds for garnish. Sweat these together with olive oil and then add the rice. Give it a good stir to get it covered with oil and sizzle, then splosh in some wine. I had about a third of a bottle of Chablis left over and used that, but you could use anything.
Wait until the smell of alcohol has burned off and and then start adding your stock, bit by bit, as you stir stir stir. I also chopped some more fresh thyme in at this stage, but you don't have to. Continue to do this until all the stock is absorbed. Check the rice, if it's nice and soft then add the cheese and you're ready to go. If you want to put the risotto on the back burner until guests are ready to sit, then do this before you add the cheese - and then you can reheat with a splash of warm kettle water and the cheese just before serving.
Season well, etc etc and then serve the risotto with a lovely big juicy tomato on top. Use a little ladle to spoon out some of the cooking juices of the tomatoes and pour this around the risotto. I also then served a jug of spare juices and cooked garlic cloves at the table for people to help themselves to more of the amazing juice. I would heartily suggest serving some bread too (carb on carb action) as the juices left over are so delicious.
I kept this purely vegetarian for the night, but you could amend the risotto and add in flavour with chorizo or similar, although you really don't need the flavour as you get so much from the tomato juices. I think it would also work with a simple saffron risotto, but perhaps not so much with a mushroom one, as your flavours would be fighting too much on the plate.
Full credit to Jamie Oliver, the original recipe is here. It's from his inspiring new series of vegetarian dishes and it really stood out to me as something special.
We served this with a Sicilian white Grillo called Sibiliano - it was crisp and flavourful and stood up to the deep tomato and roasted garlic in the dish.