Recipe: Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Risotto with Seared Chicken

A good risotto is incredibly rich, incredibly creamy, and incredibly delicious. Like warm macaroni-and-cheese and buttery mashed potatoes, risotto is something of a comfort food, albeit a fancy comfort food that takes a lot of time and patience to make. It’s up there with homemade pasta and the perfectly poached egg on the list of “things that are (supposedly) hard to make.” Truthfully, it’s not so much that risotto is hard to make, but that it takes a very long time to make and really requires your constant attention to make sure it cooks through properly—it’s so worth making though, because, as I said in the first sentence, a good risotto is rich, creamy, and absolutely delicious. This recipe combines tangy sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil with a healthy handful of grated Parmesan cheese, some white wine, and a little garlic to create a colorful, flavorful dish that’s incredibly filling and perfect served with chicken (or shrimp or scallops). Plan on making this on a night when you have time to spare and a big appetite.

Serves: 6
Prep. time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: Approx. 45 min.-1 hour (give or take a little time—the rice takes a long time to cook)
Difficulty: Moderate

Ingredients

  • Approx. 6-8 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1-3 tbsp. whole butter
  • 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine (cooking wine will do)
  • 2 cups Arborio rice (this is key—you must use this type of rice)
  • 1, 7 oz. jar (about 10 pieces) sun-dried tomatoes, diced (I buy Alessi brand, oil-packed)
  • Approx. 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste
  • Approx. 1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 3 chicken breasts, cut in half and pounded out to about 1/2 inch thickness


Directions
In a medium pot, bring the chicken broth to a simmer (it should bubble slightly around the edges). In a large pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is slightly soft and translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the rice to the pot with the onion and garlic mixture and stir it around to coat it with the butter and olive oil. Let it cook for 1-2 minutes, until the rice is coated evenly and the pieces look a little white in the middle. Add in the white wine and cook until it’s absorbed into the rice and there is little or no wine visible in the pot. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add in a ladle-full of chicken stock, stirring the rice as you pour. Keep stirring and watch as the rice absorbs the stock. When most of the stock is absorbed, add in another ladle-full, stirring as you go, and watching until the stock is absorbed. Repeat this process until the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy (it’s really important to taste this as you go so you make sure you get the right texture). If your rice is crunchy, add more hot stock, but be sure that you always add it in small ladle-fulls—the rice needs to absorb the stock before more is added. Towards the end, when you’re nearing the end of your pot of stock, the rice should look really creamy and the individual grains should look larger. At this point, feel free to reduce the heat to low and let it cook gently, undisturbed, to let it absorb any excess stock and to thicken a bit more. The result should be tender rice (they may be a little al dente, but this is okay) that is creamy and thick. Once the rice is done, toss in the sun-dried tomatoes, basil, Parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper, plus a little butter (about 1 tbsp.), then stir to combine. The tricky part about this is figuring out when to start the chicken, and my timing was a little off when I made this. I’d recommend starting the chicken when you’ve only got only a few ladle-fulls of stock left—heat a little olive oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and place them in the pan, cooking both sides until the chicken breasts are cooked through.
Plate the chicken atop the rice and garnish with a little fresh basil.

This dish takes time and it’s not something you can start and then walk away from—you need to be constantly stirring the rice, adding more stock, and tasting it for texture and doneness the entire time—but the end results are worth the time it takes to make it (and if you’re cooking for a smaller crowd like me, you’ll have some delicious leftovers). The rice is decadent and creamy, with a rich, full flavor from the chicken stock and Parmesan cheese and brightness from sun-dried tomatoes and basil.

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