Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes


Recently I was browsing through a little cookbook I’d been gifted, Risotto, published by Williams-Sonoma.

It’s a sweet, unassuming cookbook, only 119 pages, published in 2002. The first chapter covers classic risottos, and following chapters discuss vegetable, meat, seafood, and even dessert risottos. It’s a great cookbook, especially if you’re a risotto virgin.

For me, risotto has never been a big deal. The main reason is that I’ve never been fearful of cooking. It’s not because I’m fearless, it’s because I was naïve!

When I began cooking regularly 40 years ago, I had no idea that certain recipes might be complicated or challenging. I just dove in head first and started learning and cooking.

Not to say that risotto is hard to make, because it isn’t. But yes, you have to give it some attention. And it involves standing at the stove for about an hour.

I know “quick and easy” meals will always be popular, but anyone can make an outstanding and satisfying dish like this mushroom risotto.

In this W-S cookbook I saw a recipe for baked risotto-stuffed tomatoes, and with my ripe garden tomatoes and herbs, I knew that this would be a really nice side dish for some grilled chicken, white fish, or even steak.

And, you can even use leftover risotto for this dish, instead of making risotto first.

Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes
Slightly Adapted

6 ripe but firm tomatoes, about 8 ounces each
Risotto, freshly prepared or leftover
1/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
Chopped fresh parsley
Chopped fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8″ baking dish.

Cut the top off each tomato. With a small spoon, carefully scoop out the insides, leaving walls thick enough for the tomato to hold its shape.

Reserve the pulp.

Salt the inside of each tomato and turn them upside down on paper towels to drain for 5 minutes.

In a food processor, purée the tomato pulp until smooth. I used the processed pulp as part of my risotto liquid, and seasoned the risotto with dried sweet basil, salt, and white pepper.

The tomato purée added a lovely peachy hue to the risotto.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and garlic; set aside.

Put the tomatoes in the prepared dish and fill the tomatoes with the risotto, patting it down.

Cover the dish with foil and bake until the tomatoes are softened, about 25-30 minutes.

Remove the foil, and top the tomatoes with the bread crumb mixture.

Turn on the broiler and place the tomatoes 4″ from the heat source. Broil until the tops are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.

Serve at once.

I sprinkled chopped parsley and a chiffonade of basil over the top of these stuffed tomatoes.

Cutting open a tomato was a delight, with the risotto’s fragrance emanating from inside.

Just a little salt and some cayenne pepper… or not.

This was perfection. And just to make sure the risotto-stuffed tomato was really good, I had a second one. But they would make a lovely side dish!

Crispy Beet Risotto


My husband and I were dining with friends in Colorado recently, at a restaurant called Justice Snow’s in Aspen. It was quite bustling and busy, which means that for me, it was loud and everyone had to yell to be heard.

I was very excited about the menu, however, and without hesitation I ordered trout. Our friend ordered the roasted chicken served with crispy beet risotto, english peas, charred turnips, carrots, spiced yogurt, and ver jus.

While enjoying our cocktails, we talked at length about how the beets were prepared “crispy” in the risotto, but all of our profound thoughts were put to rest when he got his meal. The beet risotto was made crispy by frying it like a cake. Fortunately I got to taste it, and I knew then I wanted to make it at home.

It was especially tempting to recreate because I’ve never used beets in a risotto, and I thought I’d used about all vegetables, from carrots to pumpkin to zucchini and tomato. It’s probably because my husband doesn’t eat beets, and he’s the big risotto eater in our family.
So here’s what I did. If you need a more complete risotto tutorial, check our my mushroom risotto. It’s similar to this one because it uses bits of things as well as special liquid – in this case – beet juice.

Crispy Beet Risotto

Whole beets from a can, about 5-6 small
Reserved beet juice, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely choppped
1 1/4 cup risotto rice, like arborio or carnaroli
White or red wine, about 1/3 cup
Chicken Broth, about 1 cup
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan
Salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste
Olive oil, for frying

Drain the whole beets and save the juice.


Then finely chop the beets into bits and set aside.

Begin the risotto by heating the olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for a few minutes, then add the rice.

Stir well until all of the rice grains are coated with oil. Add the wine and stir until the wine is absorbed. Adjust the heat so there’s simmmering but no burning. Then gradually add 1/4 cup or so of chicken broth and stir until it’s absorbed, and repeat with the remaining broth.


At this point, add amount of beet juice that suits you; I used about 1/4 cup.

After a few minutes, add the beet bits.


Continue to stir gently. Once just about alll of the liquid is absorbed, add the cream and cheese. Stir to combine, then set the risotto to cool slightly.


The cakes can be made free-form, but I used a 3 1/2″ ring. Smaller cakes would be really pretty for a dinner party, because they could be re-heated.

Heat a little olive oil (or butter) to a flat skillet. Add some risotto to fill the ring and cook over fairly high heat to get the risotto crispy.

Gently turn over the risotto cake and brown/crisp the other side. This was much more difficult than I anticipated. Although I used a small amount of cheese in this risotto, it was probably still too much and created some sticking in the skillet.

I served the risotto cake with a filet of salmon and roasted Brussels sprouts, just for the spectacular colors!

Just for fun I added a little Mexican crema to the risotto cake, and sprinkled some chopped chives on top.

In spite of my problems cooking the cakes, they cut into bite-sized pieces nicely, and were delicious.

If you don’t want to bother making the cakes, I can honestly state that this is one of the best risottos I’ve ever made! And it’s not overwhelmingly beety.


note: In my memory of our friend’s crispy beet risotto, I think the risotto “cake” was white, with bits of beets. What the chef probably did was omit the beet juice, and add the beet bits at the very last minute before crispig the cakes. Personally, I don’t mind the bright magenta color, and the beet juice probably added more flavor. But if you don’t want hot fuschia risotto cakes, do leave out the beet juice and use some more broth instead.


Risotto with Bacon and Peas


When I prepare meat, it’s usually for my husband.  I don’t dislike meat, I just prefer avocados, and fish.  I even eat tofu.  On a special occasion I will certainly enjoy a good filet with my guy, but it’s just too heavy for me.

So this lovely spring risotto with peas and a little bacon is a perfect meal for me.  For my husband it’s a side dish!

But however you eat it, it’s  a great risotto.  Make sure you use a really good bacon.

Risotto with Bacon and Peas

8 ounces bacon, diced
3 shallots, diced
1 1/2 cups risotto rice, like arborio or carnaroli
White wine
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Heavy cream
8 ounces frozen petite peas, thawed
5-6 ounces grated Parmesan

Cook the bacon over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet.

When it’s cooked, spoon it out of the bacon grease using a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.

Pour about 2 tablespoons of the hot grease into a pot to make the risotto. Add the shallots and sauté them in the bacon grease until soft, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rice until every grain is coated with the grease. Stir for about a minute.

Then add a big splash of wine and stir the rice until the wine is absorbed. Then proceed with adding a little of the broth at a time, always stirring until it gets absorbed by the rice.


After adding all of the stock, add a little cream a few times and stir well.

After about 30 minutes, the risotto should be cooked and stop absorbing liquid. At this point stir in the peas, bacon and Parmesan. Stir gently to combine and let heat through.


Serve immediately. You can always serve extra Parmesan as well.

I used no seasoning in this risotto to let the flavors shine. But you should taste it for salt and pepper definitely.


I added a tarragon sprig from my plant that has fortunately returned to my garden this spring.

If you want seasoning, I would recommend nutmeg or white pepper. Or both!

Now doesn’t this look like a perfect spring meal?! With a little white wine of course!

Luxurious Short Ribs


Short ribs are fatty beef ribs, cut literally into short pieces. They sometimes referred to as flanken style, to differentiate them from spare ribs.
When short ribs are braised, the meat becomes soft, tender, and velvet-like.

Similar to pulled pork, the tender texture of prepared short ribs is why I love this cut of meat. Plus, you serve the meat with the accompanying red wine-based reduction that is rich and flavorful. Once prepared, these ribs pair perfectly with a potato mash, polenta, or risotto, for an extra-special meal.

I chose risotto for my “side,” and decided to make it green using spinach. The combination of short ribs and risotto is a meal you could have at an upscale restaurant, for which you would pay dearly! But short ribs are truly simple to make. Plus, they are relatively inexpensive – not what you’d think from the menu price!


Braised Short Ribs

Approximately 5 pounds of short ribs
Freshly ground black pepper
Flour, about 5 tablespoons
Olive oil for browning the ribs
2 onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups beef broth
1 bottle red wine
2-3 bay leaves
3 tablespoons paprika creme
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste

Season the meat with the salt and pepper, then toss in the flour in a large bowl.

When you’re ready to start cooking, heat some oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Brown the ribs on all sides, no more than four at a time. Turn the ribs with tongs and brown all sides.

Place the ribs in a large bowl and continue with the remaining short ribs. Add a little more oil if necessary, and make sure to bring the oil to high heat before the browning process.
Turn down the heat to medium, and add the chopped onion. Sauté the onion for a few minutes, stirring as necessary. Add the garlic and bay leaves, and stir until you smell the garlic.

Add the broth and wine and stir well. Bring the liquid to a soft boil, then reduce the heat and cook the liquid for at least 15 minutes.
Place the browned ribs in the liquid – ideally they are all submerged in the liquid.

Cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer for about two hours, occasionally moving around the ribs in the liquid. rib11

After cooking, the sauce has reduced slightly, and the meat should be falling off of the ribs. Let everything cool slightly.
Using tongs or a slotted spoon, place the ribs in a bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, remove the Dutch oven from the refrigerator and remove the grease from the top of the sauce. There will be grease.
Warm the sauce a little on the stove, and then, using a hand immersion blender, blend the sauce to thicken it. If it’s still too thin, reduce for 30 minutes or so. Then blend in the paprika creme and tomato paste, and taste for saltiness.

Remove the rib meat from the bones, and place the meat in the sauce. Heat gently and slowly.

When the meat has heated through, serve the ribs with spinach risotto or your desired side dish(es).
For a bit less traditional dish of short ribs, add cumin to the spices and use a generous amount of ancho chile paste, and serve these short ribs over cheddar grits.
Or, add hoisin sauce and chili paste for a Chinese-inspired dish served with cellophane noodles or grilled vegetables!
Leftover short ribs are wonderful in quesadillas and sandwiches, so get creative with this luxurious meat!

As you can see, the short rib meat is tender, and smothered in the rich sauce. A perfect meal for a winter day.
For the accompanying risotto, I simply added chopped fresh spinach towards the end of the cooking time, before the grated Parmesan. I also used some white pepper, which is optional. If you don’t know how to make risotto, refer to Paprika Risotto for directions.

Paprika-Smothered Pork Tenderloin


I have mentioned before that I am a food snob, but I’m actually much better than I used to be. Believe it or not, there was a time when I made everything single thing from scratch. I did not believe in buying prepared herb or spice mixtures, pastes, marinades, sauces, and so forth. I still don’t buy marinades or sauces at all, because that’s just silly. However, I have relaxed my ways in the other categories.

To defend myself for a second, why would anyone purchase Italian Herbs when you can just use individual Italian herbs? Why would anyone use a curry powder or garam masala when you can easily own all of the individual components? Why would you purchase Schezuan pepper salt when you can make it so easily?

But we live and learn. And the good thing about aging is relaxing a bit. So I now actually own Italian herbs, a sweet curry powder, Old Bay, a barbecue 3000, a garlic pepper, a smoky salt mixture, a Bavarian spice mixture, a lemon pepper, chili powder, and many more blends, thanks to Penzey’s, mostly, that I never would have dreamed would be in my spice cabinets. And I’m okay with it!

And so I’ve also been a purist when it came to pestos and pastes that can be so easily made in a food processor or blender, with no chemicals or preservatives required! Fortunately, I’ve relaxed in this area as well, and have really come across some delightful products.

One was gifted to me by my Hungarian girlfriend. It’s called Paprika Creme. I could smother this stuff on everything, including myself. In fact, I used it in a paprika risotto on the blog and it was fabulous. I’ve smothered it on chicken, added it to soups and stews, and also used it to season polenta/grits. It’s quite versatile!

It typically comes in a jar, produced by Univer, but it also comes in a tube.

And so, tonight I’m smothering a pork tenderloin with this beautiful, aromatic paprika creme for dinner.

Paprika-Smothered Pork Tenderloin

Olive oil
1 pork tenderloin, patted dry, and almost at room temperature
Paprika crème

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place a little oil in the bottom of the baking dish. Add the pork tenderloin and roll it in the oil a bit. Pork tenderloins have a smaller end, so I just always tuck that end underneath. Then the tenderloin is more uniform in thickness.


Then, spoon the paprika creme generously on the top of the tenderloin.

Smooth the top. I also added a few pieces of purple onion just for fun.

Place the baking dish in the preheated oven. If you are worried about being distracted and overcooking the tenderloin, take advantage of an oven probe if you have one. This little guy has become my best friend in the kitchen, because I’m often distracted.

Cook the pork until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees. Or more if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like pink pork. Then remove the tenderloin to a cutting board to rest.

The reason I don’t use a higher temperature with the paprika creme is that I don’t want it to burn. You can see how it looks almost the same as before cooking.


Slice the tenderloin and serve immediately.

I served the paprika-smothered tenderloin with steamed Brussels sprouts and some of the onions, which I let brown a little longer in the oven.

If you love the flavor of roasted Hungarian red bell peppers, you will love this dish.

I encourage you to try this product. One word of warning, however, the paste stains everything.
note: There are spicy and mild varieties of paprika creme, and they’re both wonderful.

Paprika Risotto


Risotto is one of my favorite dishes to make because, like polenta, it can be made so many different ways depending what you put into it. Basically, it’s a rice dish, but made with a special starchy rice that creates a creaminess when cooked the proper way.

Today I wanted to make a risotto using a favorite ingredient of mine called paprika cream. I learned about it from a Hungarian friend and I’m addicted to it. And yes, it is a short cut, but it’s a fabulous one. This is a high-quality product that is extremely versatile. It’s available in a jar made by Univer, but I’ve also used a brand that comes in a tube.

Sure, you can roast your own red Hungarian peppers, peel them, and purée them, but why not use this pre-made product? Especially because you can use a teaspoon, a tablespoon, or much more, depending on what you’re making.

Today I’m making risotto with the paprika creme which will provide the flavor. The flavor is bigger and better by using this product than simply using a sweet or spicy Hungarian ground paprika.

You can serve grilled shrimp or scallops with it or just about any favorite protein. My husband prefers a meat-heavy meal, so for him the risotto will be more like a side dish, along with pork tenderloin.

If you need a tutorial on making risotto, I have posted on Dried Mushroom Risotto, a Zucchini Risotto, and a Thai-Inspired Risotto, all of which have more details about the risotto-making process.

Don’t let anyone convince you that it’s difficult. I’ve even taught children how to make risotto! There is a little elbow grease involved, but it’s well worth it.

The only “rule” about preparing risotto is to have all of your ingredients ready by the stove because you cannot leave the kitchen while making risotto, and you don’t want to get distracted. The whole process takes up to 40 minutes.
Here’s what I did:

Paprika Risotto

2 tablespoons olive oil, or fat of choice
2 shallots, diced
1 cup of arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
Approximately 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 heaping tablespoons of paprika creme, or to taste
Grated Parmesan, optional

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. I actually used a little fat from the pan in which I roasted the pork tenderloins. Don’t ever throw that fat away!!!

When the oil is hot, add the shallots and sauté for a few minutes. A little caramelization is good. Then stir in the rice, and sauté the rice, stirring occasionally, for about a minute. All of the rice grains should be shiny.

Then pour in the wine. If the pan is at the right temperature, the wine should sizzle a little. If it just sits there, you need to turn up the heat. Stir the rice with the wine until the wine is almost all evaporated.

Then begin adding chicken broth, about 1/4 – 1/3 cups at a time, stir, and continue doing this. When the liquid is almost completely incorporated, the rice should almost be sticking to the pan, but it won’t, cause you’re there at the stove adding a little more liquid. 

Before you’ve used all of the broth, stir in the paprika cream until it’s well incorporated.

You’ll know when your risotto is about done because it will begin to stop absorbing the liquid, and should have a nice creamy consistency.  If the rice is still absorbing the broth, it’s okay to add a little more broth or even water as necessary, even if you’ve already used the 2 1/2 cups of broth.  The rice has to cook (see note).
You can stir in the Parmesan, but I prefer to sprinkle it on top of the risotto.

Serve immediately.

If you want a creamier risotto, you can substitute some of the broth with heavy cream.

note: According to the Italians, the rice grains in risotto are cooked until they are al dente – which means there is just a little bit of bite to them. Personally, I don’t mind my risotto slightly beyond that point. Hopefully my Italian ancestors aren’t rolling over in their graves because of my preference!

Now, think about all of the lovely variations of risotto you can make throughout the year…

Spring: lemon risotto with spicy grilled shrimp, or risotto with asparagus

Summer: risotto with corn and chipotle, or tomato risotto with spicy scallops and fresh basil

Fall: pumpkin risotto with feta cheese, or Brussels sprouts risotto topped with grilled sausages

Winter: cheddar risotto topped with braised short ribs, or wild mushroom risotto served with pork loin

Dried Mushroom Risotto


I think my husband could live on risotto alone. Well, steak and risotto. So I make risotto often, creating different varieties to keep life interesting. It’s the kind of cooking I like to do, in any case, like when I made a Thai-inspired risotto a while back. My Italian ancestors are probably rolling in their graves, but one doesn’t always have to make only “authentic” dishes authentically!

Most people have sautéed mushrooms for pasta, or to top steaks. But have you ever used dried mushrooms? They used to be harder to find, but nowadays you can get just about any variety of mushroom in a dried form at most grocery stores. Italian, French, and so forth.

If you haven’t used them, I urge you strongly to try them once. It’s simply a matter of soaking them in hot water to hydrate them, then toss them into soups, pastas, gratins, you name it. They have a unique flavor, one that’s much different from the fresh counterpart.

Quite often I mix Italian and Chinese mushrooms together; the provenance of the mushroom doesn’t matter. Chinese mushrooms aren’t just for Chinese food, unless you get into the fungus, like cloud ears. Those would be more specific to Chinese dishes. My opinion.

Sometimes I mix different mushrooms together in a dish and have no idea what kind they are, because I was too dumb to save the packaging, like these. Chanterelles, maybe?
Other times, with Chinese packaging, there’s no English translation. But in this case, I know these are Shitakes.

So today I’m making a risotto with a mixture of the two above dried mushrooms. It’s still cold outside where I live, so I was inspired to make this risotto. It’s not something I would make during the spring and summer months. I’m seasonally responsible when I cook!

To prepare the dried mushrooms, place them in a larger bowl and add hot water to cover. To keep the mushrooms submerged, I place a smaller bowl on top and weigh it down with a can or an apple. Let them soak for at least 15 minutes; they can’t overhydrate.

Here’s the risotto I made today with the dried mushrooms. It’s just a general recipe. If you want more of a tutorial, check out some of my other risottos, like zucchini risotto.
Dried Mushroom Risotto

1 ounce of your choice of dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil if you prefer)
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio or other risotto rice
1/4 cup white wine
Juice from mushrooms (see below)
3 ounces Parmesan, optional
Black or white pepper, to taste

To begin, heat the butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté them for a few minutes. Then stir in the rice. Stir it for about a minute, so that all of the rice grains are coated with the butter.

Begin adding liquid to the rice, about 1/4 – 1/3 cup at a time, and stir until it disappears. I like to start with the wine for some reason.

Meanwhile, remove the mushrooms from the liquid and place them on a cutting board. Chop the mushrooms, feeling for any hard pieces and discarding them.


Using a fine sieve, strain the mushroom “liquor” to remove any grit. You will be using this liquid in the risotto.

Continue adding liquid to the risotto, using the mushroom liquor, followed by broth.
Keep stirring, and you will see the rice continue to absorb liquid. When you can tell that you’re close to the end of cooking time, add the chopped mushrooms and grated Parmesan, if you’re using it. Stir gently to combine. Taste and season, if necessary, with salt and pepper.

Some people like to add more butter and sometimes heavy cream to risotto, but the rice itself gets so creamy that to me it’s not necessary.
As far as toppings, you can use fresh parsley or chives. I chose a bit of fresh thyme.

This risotto is fabulous as is, but would also be lovely with poultry or beef.