Risotto is probably one of my favorite fallback dishes. It’s easy to prepare, comes together quickly and can be dressed up or down in a multitude of ways. I love playing with flavorings and add-ins for it as the seasons change – I’m anxious for Spring’s first peas and favas to show up at the Greenmarket so I can make one favorite version.
I had a package of fresh Mozzarella di Bufala that I had purchased for a dish we didn’t end up making, and as I tried to think of a way to use it (other than just eating the whole thing straight, which is quite easy to do), I remembered an episode of Lidia’s Family Table I saw recently where Lidia focused on risotto. The version she made in that episode was enriched with a basic tomato-basil sauce, and little chunks of fresh mozzarella were stirred in at the end so that you’d get little gooey pockets of cheese with each bite. I had, unfortunately, deleted the episode from the DVR already, so I had to go from memory, but what I ended up with was pretty darn tasty.
Tomato Risotto with Basil and Fresh Mozzarella
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
1 cup tomato-basil pasta sauce (I had some homemade sauce on hand, but you can always use a good-quality jarred sauce)
1 pint chicken stock
3-4 cups water
12 large basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, plus additional whole leaves for garnish
Fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes (about 1 cup)
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano
Melt butter into olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add shallot and a pinch of salt and cook a few minutes until softened. Add the rice and stir well to coat with the butter/olive oil mixture. Allow to cook a few minutes more until the rice begins to become translucent. Add wine and stir, allowing to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in tomato-basil sauce and half of the chicken stock and again allow to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Continue adding the remaining liquid (stock and water) a cup or so at a time, stirring often, and allowing the liquid to cook into the risotto as described above. You may need more or less liquid than I have listed above, but what you want is for the risotto to be creamy and the texture of the grains of rice to be al dente. Taste often as the rice cooks so you can monitor the texture of the rice, and also adjust for salt.
Once the risotto is creamy and al dente, turn off the heat and gently fold in the basil chiffonade. Add a bit of freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano and stir that in, then fold in the mozzarella cubes a little bit at a time immediately before serving. Spoon into shallow bowls and garnish with whole basil leaves.