The smell of tomato plants is one of my favorite aromas in the world, it’s not the aroma of the actual tomato that captivates me so, but the vibrant, husky green smell of the leaves. To me that perfume is like summer incarnate. It reminds me of running around my mom’s sunny California veggie patch as a little girl, summertime picnics and the fledgling tomato plants I grew on the windowsill of my tiny apartment in Rennes.
I never thought it was possible to instill food with that smell, with that taste. But a few years ago I had a tomato leaf risotto at some fancy restaurant in San Francisco. I don’t even remember which restaurant it was, but that dish has stuck with me since; it was like my imagination come to life.
I’m a strong believer that with every bad situation in life there comes a silver lining; my remake of that Tomato Leaf Risotto was the silver lining that came from a recent gardening disaster. The garden scenario was too little too late this year. I got around to clearing away masses of weeds and planting about 2 months later than I should have. That coupled with the cold spring and excessive rain throughout summer resulted in rows of tomatoes plants that never bore fruit. At least I made good use of the leaves…
Approximately 1.1 litres (2 pints or 4 cups) stock (I used chicken but vegetable would also be nice)
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
400 (14 ounces) arborio (risotto) rice
2 wine glasses of dry white vermouth or dry white wine (I’ve also subbed apple cider in a pinch)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
2 hefty handfuls of tomato leaves, julienned
In a saucepan, bring the stock to a boil. Once a boil has been reached, turn off the heat but leave the stock on the stove. In a separate pan, heat the olive oil and butter over low heat. Once oils are warmed, add the onions and garlic, cooking very gently for about 15 minutes without browning the onions at all. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat to medium.
Stir the rice constantly to prevent it from burning. After a few minutes it will look slightly translucent. Add the alcohol, stirring all the while. Once the alcohol has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Turn down the heat to a simmer so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly. The more slowly the rice cooks the better the texture will be. Stirring throughout the cooking process ensures fluffy, evenly cooked rice. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring, stirring, stirring, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. This will take around 20 – 30 minutes. Taste the rice as you go along to ensure that you aren’t over salting. You know you are finished when the rice is soft but has slight chewy bite. Dont’ worry if you haven’t used all of the stock. Conversely, If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water.
Gently fold the most of the tomato leaves into the risotto, saving some for serving. Top each bowl with fresh tomatoes and a sprinkle of tomato leaves.