Baked Tomato Basil Risotto

So, Take Home Chef...I told you it's inspiring me! Last night we had a baked, tomato basil risotto with roast chicken and tonight is my very first homemade cream of potato soup! Hopefully an equally tasty, yet healthier version (with barely any cream). We'll see ;)

I was trying to come up with a way to use the leftover roast chicken yesterday and all I could think about was the "Neely's Get Yo' Man Chicken." It's one of my absolute favorite dishes (which...I know I say about a LOT, but when I crave this, I need it) in which you cook chicken in a bath of tomato sauce on the stove top. What gets you is the combination of herbs and spices--they create a very strong flavor that is truly addicting, which is obviously how it got its name! The story is that Pat Neely was won over by this, his very first meal cooked by his wife, Gina. Since my chicken was already cooked, though, I needed to come up with something else. Normally I eat this with rice (as the recipe states as well), so I figured I could easily turn it into a tomato risotto and simply shred up the roast chicken to mix in, which is exactly what I did.

Whenever I try to create my own recipe, I try to use another as a foundation...it makes me a lot more comfortable because I feel I'm less likely to fail. I find this method enables you to be incredibly creative and, eventually, find that the base recipe is no longer necessary!

So, I looked through every cookbook I own that could possibly have a tomato risotto recipe. I have one go-to cookbook for baked risotto, which is Martha Stewart's Favorite Comfort Food. I enjoy just looking through the book at the photos of all my favorite comfort foods, but it's also a very good source! It's my go-to for pancakes as well and I have never...never had better pancakes in my life. Never!!

Anyway, I like to take her recipe for "Baked Sage and Saffron Risotto" and use it as a base for other baked risottos, simply removing the sage and saffron. I find that it's never failed me when it comes to creaminess either. Baked risotto will likely never be as creamy as a traditional stove top risotto, but if you cook this slightly lower, it does mimic it more as opposed to simply resembling a baked rice.

However, that recipe wasn't quite good enough for the tomato sauce idea, so, instead, I used one in Patricia Wells' Trattoria. In her recipe for "Baked Risotto with Tomato Sauce and Pecorino," she combines her tomato sauce with the traditional chicken stock, something I wouldn't have considered, though it makes perfect sense. This is essentially what I took from her recipe since I was missing other key ingredients. I found that I have no hard Italian cheeses, whatsoever (not even a backup supply of Parmesan, *gasp!), and also was out of chicken stock! In a pinch, I simply omitted cheese completely (which is healthier, thank you) and replaced the chicken stock with beef stock. About four ounces short of what I needed in stock, I added just a bit of Burgundy to even it out :) 

I have to say, this dish was exactly what I was looking for. Once the risotto was finished, I quickly heated up some of that leftover roast chicken and threw it (chopped up) into the rice. My one qualm is that the flavor of the chicken didn't quite marry with the flavor of the rice; it was too plain! Had I been making chicken from scratch (as I likely will next time), I one hundred percent would cook the chicken in the tomato sauce, like the Neely's. 

What's great is that you can bring in as much (or as little) tomato flavor as you like. If you find you'd have preferred more, mix in a little extra sauce at the end. Then, next time, add more sauce initially. When I usually make the Neely's recipe, I do mix the sauce into my rice, so you may also prefer a plainer risotto with the sauce on top! I always encourage your own experimentation :)

 Baked Tomato Basil Risotto (perfect for two, if used as more than a side)

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 decent-sized cloves of garlic, minced (used to replace onion, which is a traditional base and I was out of--if you have onion, use it in addition to the garlic, which I'd have used anyway!)
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 6 oz Arborio rice
  • 8 fl oz beef stock
  • 4 fl oz Burgundy or your choice of red wine
  • 4 fl oz basil tomato sauce (recipe following)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. I think my oven may run hot, so I put it between the 375 and 400 notches. This risotto wasn't as creamy as the Martha Stewart recipe, but I feel it could be mended by lowering the temperature slightly and checking the risotto a few minutes before the recipe says it's done. Next time, I'll try and will edit this :)

In a baking dish with a lid (I love to use my 2 quart enameled cast iron casserole dish), combine the oil, garlic, and salt over moderate heat; stirring constantly, cook until the garlic is golden, as if it were roasted--don't let it brown! If you have to turn the heat lower, do so. Add the rice, stirring to coat with the oil and cook for 1 minute. Add the beef stock, wine, and tomato sauce, bringing it just to a simmer over moderate heat. Cover with the lid and bake until the rice is cooked through and most of the liquid is absorbed, 30-35 minutes. It should be moist, not soupy!

Serve immediately with the meat of your choice--I imagine steak would be delicious considering the liquid ingredients! But don't forget the tomato chicken :) 

Basil Tomato Sauce

  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 plump garlic cloves, minced (again, add chopped onion if you have it; I didn't)
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • One 28-oz can of whole, peeled plum tomatoes in juice (San Marzano if you can find them; they're the best)
  • Leaves from two sprigs of fresh basil (essentially, it's probably 10 larger leaves), finely chopped

In a large saucepan, combine the oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat, just until the garlic turns golden but, again, does not brown! Low and slow is best. 

Puree the canned tomatoes (with sauce) and add to the pan along with the basil. Whisk to combine (the oil tends to separate if you don't mix it well enough straight off). Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, when the sauce begins to thicken. I highly recommend, A) a high-sided pan/pot and B) placing a splatter screen over it so you don't get tomato sauce all over the stove and counter because it will explode like a volcano, no matter what you do. Occasionally stir the sauce, just to ensure it doesn't burn.

Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, to your desire. 

Any unused sauce can be frozen for later, of course :)

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