This easy Summer Tomato Risotto with Fennel and Fresh Herbs is a light, flavorful Italian recipe that is a must make during tomato season! It's one of my favorite ways to use up ripe, juicy heirloom tomatoes from my garden, and it just happens to be naturally vegan and gluten free. Simple to prepare and tastes like summer in a bowl.
I look forward to tomato season all year. From July through September, the markets here are overflowing with juicy, fresh tomatoes that are sweet enough to bite into like an apple. It's the perfect time of year to make fresh tomato sauces, salads, pastas and risottos just like this one.
This summery tomato risotto is a restaurant-quality dish that can be served as a first course, main dish or side dish. Sweet fennel, fresh herbs, a little white wine and vine-ripened tomatoes give it so much flavor.
For the tastiest tomato risotto, it's important to make it with fresh, ripe tomatoes that are in-season. It's a great way to use up the tomatoes from your garden that all seem to ripen at the same time.
Risotto is a traditional creamy rice dish from Northern Italy. A good risotto, like my wild mushroom risotto, is typically finished with a little butter (or a lot), heavy cream and parmesan cheese to give it a creamy consistency.
For this creamy tomato risotto recipe, I leave out the dairy and use lots of extra virgin olive oil instead. The final dish has a light and fresh tomato flavor while still achieving the creamy texture that risotto is known for.
This simple summer recipe is quick and easy enough to make on a busy weeknight but special enough to serve to company.
Why this recipe works
- Made with peak-season summer tomatoes and no stock for a pure, fresh tomato flavor.
- Fennel gives a sweet depth of flavor that compliments the tomatoes.
- Extra virgin olive oil provides richness with no need for butter or cream.
- Heaps of fresh herbs add bright, fresh flavor right before serving.
- Tomatoes - This risotto should only be made with fresh, in-season, great tasting tomatoes, otherwise it will be lacking in flavor. The more different varieties of tomatoes you can use, the better it will taste. Use the ripest, juiciest tomatoes you can find because the more liquid the tomatoes have, the more flavor it will add to the final dish. Look for large heirloom tomatoes rather than plum tomatoes or San Marzano tomatoes which typically contain less water. Do not use canned tomatoes or tomato paste or it will take away from the fresh flavor.
- Risotto Rice - It's essential to use a particular type of starchy short-grain rice for risotto. Arborio rice is a short grain rice that's more commonly found in grocery stores, while Carnaroli, a medium grain rice, is often used in Italy and is said to make an extra creamy risotto. Either will work.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil - For best results, it's important to use a really high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, especially for the final drizzle over the top right before serving.
- Fennel - Both fresh fennel and fennel seeds are used in this recipe. I love the flavor that they add, but you can omit the seeds and substitute more onion for the fresh fennel if you desire.
- Fresh Herbs - Fresh herbs are essential, you can not substitute dried herbs in this recipe. I use fresh parsley, mint and dill, but you can substitute fresh basil leaves or oregano for a more Italian flavor.
- Dutch Oven - While you can make risotto in any large pot or saucepan, a good quality, heavy bottomed Dutch Oven will retain heat better so it stays consistent during the cooking process, which will result in a creamier risotto.
- Strainer - You'll need a good fine mesh strainer to drain the tomatoes in order to measure their liquid content.
- Mortar and Pestle - I like to crush the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle, but it you can easily do it on the cutting board with the side of a knife.
Step by step instructions
- Place the tomatoes in a strainer set over a bowl and allow them to drain for about 15 minutes. Transfer the liquid from the bowl into a measuring cup, then fill with water to get 2 ½ cups.
- Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and sauté until softened and barely starting to turn golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in the fennel seeds and 1 ½ teaspoons salt for about 1 minute more.
- Add the arborio rice, stir, and cook for about 1-2 minutes to toast the rice. Add the white wine and stir until fully absorbed.
- Add ½ cup of the tomato water and stir. When the rice absorbs all of the liquid, continue adding more tomato water one ½ cup at a time, while stirring, until all the liquid is used up.
- Stir in the tomatoes and cook for about 2-3 minutes. They will release some liquid as they start to cook down.
- Add the remaining 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and season with black pepper. Give the risotto a taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. While tasting, take note of how done the rice is. When the rice is cooked through but still al dente, it's done.
- Remove the risotto from the heat and vigorously stir in the remaining ½ cup of olive oil, then the herbs, reserving some on the side for garnish.
- Spoon the risotto into bowls, drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with more herbs. Serve immediately.
Tips for success
- The total amount of water needed will depend on how much liquid you get from the tomatoes
- Toasting the rice is an essential step - don't skip it! It prevents the rice from getting mushy by creating a seal around each grain, allowing it to absorb moisture more slowly. But be careful not to toast your rice for more than a minute or it could give the risotto a bitter taste.
- Make sure your water isn't cold when adding it to the pan. You can use warm water from the tap or put it in the microwave for a minute or so.
- It's important to stir the risotto often, but you don't need to stir it constantly the entire time. Once or twice about every couple of minutes.
- The rice should be al dente when the risotto is finished cooking, not cooked to total mush. And the texture should be slightly loose, not thick and pasty.
- DO NOT be tempted to skimp on the salt or olive oil - without stock or dairy, these two ingredients are essential for both flavor and texture. However if you wish to add butter or cheese I'm not going to stop you!
This summer tomato risotto with fennel makes a hearty and satisfying main course, a light and fresh side dish or an elegant first course at a dinner party. Serve it with a simple salad or any of the dishes below as part of a complete summertime Italian meal.
FAQ About Summer Tomato Risotto
Risotto is best served as soon as it's finished, but you can store leftover tomato risotto in an airtight container int he refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat in a pan or microwave with a little bit of water added to it and stir frequently. Don't let it cook, just warm up, to avoid overcooking the rice. You can also use the leftover risotto to make arancini or fried rice balls or rice cakes.
Yes. You need to cook the risotto half way (about 15 minutes) while the rice is still undercooked, then transfer it to a sheet pan to stop the cooking and cool down quickly. You can then cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. When ready to serve, bring the par-cooked risotto to room temperature and heat up the remaining liquid in a saucepan. Once hot, add the risotto and cook until al dente, then finish as usual. Restaurants often do this so they can prepare risotto for customers faster.
It probably cooked for a little bit too long. Ideally the risotto shouldn't take more than 20-25 minutes to reach the perfect texture and if it continues cooking past that it will become mushy. Test the risotto when it's nearing the end and stop cooking once the rice is al dente.
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