baked tomato risotto & crispy ocean perch

Risotto makes me nervous, and when I’m nervous I do stupid things like leave risotto in the oven at 500 degrees for an hour without checking on it. Not once. The dishes done, the stress of all that stirring and heating stock and waiting behind me, I popped it in the oven and promptly forgot about it until the timer rang and I rushed into the kitchen with visions of “deeply browned” crispy delicious risotto. In its place, I found deeply blackened risotto. Blackened like I’ve never blackened anything before. You’d need a hatchet to serve it kind of blackened. I’ll be soaking that pan for a month kind of blackened. You get the point.
How did this happen? I can only blame the nerves – they have a way of overrunning the common sense part of your brain, the part that’s supposed to say, “hey, a whole hour at 500 degrees. That sounds like a little much.” I’ve had so many risotto mishaps over the years (starchy, goopy, undercooked, you name it) that when I set out to make this recipe (from Ken Oringer via Food and Wine), I was very careful to follow the instructions exactly, and those very instructions resulted in that pan permanently residing in my sink.
Though I wanted to throw in the dish towel and order in for dinner, being impressively (er, disturbingly) stubborn, I started again. I really wanted this risotto. A peek under the crust of the burnt version revealed a creamy tomato laced inside that, with the right kind of crispy crust, I imagined would be pretty darn delicious.

This dish was inspired by a meal I’ve eaten a couple of times at Pomodoro in the North End – a seared salmon served with a ball of pan fried tomato risotto that steals the show. Crispy outside and heavenly creamy inside flecked with sweet tomato, this is risotto done right. So, when I spied this baked risotto in Food and Wine, with its promise of a deeply brown crispy crust, I headed straight for the kitchen. And round two, this was really pretty excellent. 
I served it up with some crispy baked ocean perch (from our csf) and a little sautéed spinach. The perch was a synch – butter and bread crumb dredged and served with a white wine butter sauce. But the risotto is the star here and you could easily make it the center of the meal – a little salad and maybe some bread and you’re in business. The risotto recipe serves 6-8 and the Perch recipe serves 4. I included some general tips for making better risottos below. 

For the Baked Tomato Risotto
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
4 ½ cups homemade or good quality bought chicken stock
½ lb arbario rice
1 large onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small can (12 oz) whole peeled tomatoes
1 tsp chopped thyme
¼ cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
grated parm to serve

Make the Risotto:
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and butter a 9 x 9 baking dish or 8-9 inch skillet.
First, rinse the rice very well under cold water. I don’t find its necessary to soak rice for risotto, but a very good rinsing will wash away all the residual starch clinging to each little grain – that’s the starch that makes a “starchy” tasting risotto, so make sure to wash it well. Also, you want to start with a good quality brand of rice – I find it really does make for a better end result. Today, I used Gli Aironi, an Italian brand available at Whole Foods. 
Set the rinsed rice aside, and place the stock in a small sauce pan over medium heat to warm. Warm stock will incorporate much more easily into the risotto and yields a creamier end result.
Drain the tomatoes and reserve the juice. Finely chop the tomatoes and set aside. (If it’s tomato season, use fresh tomatoes by all means – about 4 romas or 1 large tomato.)
Next, heat a large skillet or sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and butter and, when the butter is melted and foamy, add the onion and garlic and sauté until tender and aromatic, about 4-5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and the thyme and sauté 1 to 2 minutes more. Add the rice and ¼ cup of the reserved tomato juice and cook until the juice is absorbed, only about 1 minute. (Reserve the remaining juice for the butter sauce below.) Add 1 cup of the warm stock and, stirring constantly, cook until it is all absorbed.
Add the rest of the stock ½ cup at a time, waiting until all the liquid is absorbed before adding any more. You want to stir often, but I don’t generally stand over the pot the whole time – I do dishes and prep in between, but I don’t leave the room. I find no adverse affect, but if it makes you feel better, more stirring certainly won’t hurt. The whole process will take about 30 minutes, and at the end your rice should be creamy looking and tender, but still with a slightly toothsome bite (it will continue to cook in the oven.) 
Pour the cooked risotto into the prepared pan and bake 25-35 minutes until golden brown on top. Serve immediately. 

For the Crispy Ocean Perch
4 skinless ocean perch filets (or substitute another white fish)
2-3 tbsp melted unsalted butter
2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper
Lemon wedges and chopped parsley to serve

For the White Wine Butter Sauce
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 shallot thinly sliced
1 glass dry white wine
2 tbsp reserved tomato juice
Salt and pepper

Make the Perch and the While Wine Butter Sauce:
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Set a wire baking rack* over a sheet pan. Stir together the panko crumbs and the paprika with a little salt and pepper and spread it out on a dinner plate. Brush the filets with butter on both sides and dredge in the panko crumbs, then lie on the prepared rack and bake 10-15 minutes until crispy and cooked through.
While the fish is baking, make the sauce. Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat and add the butter and shallots. Cook until the shallots are tender, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the wine and the tomato juice and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the sauce by half and taste for seasoning. You may want to strain out the shallots at this point for a more refined presentation. Turn down the heat, and keep warm until ready to serve.
Serve the fish and risotto topped with a little sauce and garnished with parsley and lemon wedges. 
* The fish is much better if it’s baked on an elevated rack – the underside gets nicely crisp, but if you don’t have a rack, I recommend just baking it on a pan and gently flipping it over half way through cooking.

  1. DELICIOUS! Made this last night for dinner and could not stop eating the Risotto. Thanks for passing it along!

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