Recipe: Risotto with oven blush tomatoes and hand-cut pesto

Make the perfect creamy risotto, topped with oven dried tomatoes and homemade pesto

Make the perfect creamy risotto, topped with oven dried tomatoes and homemade pesto - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Hooray - we’re allowed to have people in the garden again. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s gone a bit bonkers at the notion? My patio looks to be booked out for at least month – but I really have missed feeding people, especially my friends, who come laden with bottles of wine! 

Last weekend some girlfriends came over and, purely because I have to justify the expense of my lockdown pizza oven purchase, I whipped up an Italian-esque menu. So, as well as pizza, there was a wibbly, boozy lemon panna cotta with poached rhubarb, the remains of an Italian Easter cake, cute boxes of sugar-spun chocolate nuts and fruit jellies from (another guilty lockdown pleasure of mine), and this week’s recipe – risotto. 

My husband’s idea of risotto is bunging a bit of onion, wine and rice in a pan, adding loads of stock and hoping for the best. But if you really want to make the most of this classic, give it some love. 

A few things to remember: 

  1. Have all your ingredients prepared and ready to go before you start – including the stock in a pan simmering gently. 

  1. Use the tastiest stock you can get your hands on. If I don’t have homemade in the freezer (often the case) I use stock from my butcher or Kallo Organic cubes. 

  1. Don’t stir your risotto too much. This introduces air and cools it down, so it will take longer to cook! Only stir it occasionally so it doesn’t stick. 

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There are essential stages to risotto cooking too. Begin with il soffrito, gently frying off the aromatics to make a base. Adding the rice (la tostatura) and toasting in the soffrito coats every grain with flavour. You’ll add the wine next (lo sfumato). And the cooking over a low heat, gradually adding stock is known as la cottura. A couple of steps often missed out, but that will make all the difference, are il riposo (allowing the risotto to rest once cooked for a couple of minutes). And the final la mantecatura – adding your emulsifying ingredients such as cheese and butter and stirring them into to give a luscious, creamy finish. 

I used odds and sods from my weekly veg box to garnish my basic risotto, but gave them a bit of extra care to make them sing. Baby plum tomatoes were halved and slowly roasted to bring out their sweetness. Courgettes cubed and cured with lemon and salt for a pop of freshness. And I made rustic, hand-cut pesto to stir in at the end. A perfect balance of flavours. 

Risotto with oven blush tomatoes, cured courgettes and hand cut pesto 

(serves 4) 


For the tomato garnish: 200g fresh baby plum tomatoes, halved 

For the courgette garnish: 1 small courgette, juice of 1 lemon, 1tsp salt, olive oil 

For the pesto: 1 small bunch basil, leaves only, 2tbsps (heaped) almonds, zest of 1 lemon, 150g Parmesan, 1 garlic clove, peeled, olive oil, black pepper, sea salt 

For the risotto: 

1 small onion, finely chopped 

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 

1 stick celery, finely chopped 

1tbsp olive oil 

2tbsps, heaped, butter 

300g risotto rice 

150ml dry white wine – not plonk, it should be drinkable 

1.2lts vegetable or chicken stock, kept warm in another pan 


Large handful Parmesan to finish 


A day before start the garnishes so they’re done and out of the way. Place the tomatoes on a baking tray in the oven at 100C. Cook for 1-1.5 hours until they’re wilting and starting to dehydrate but still have some plumpness. They will be super sweet. Pop in a bowl and place in the fridge. 

Cut the courgette into tiny cubes. Place in a bowl with the lemon juice and salt and enough olive oil to just cover. Leave to rest in the fridge. 

For the pesto, roughly cut the almonds and Parmesan and pop in a bowl. Finely chop the basil and add this. Grate in the garlic and lemon zest. Pour in enough olive oil to bind the mixture loosely and season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Make the risotto just before you want to eat it – it will go claggy if you make it in advance.  

Heat 1tbsp of the butter with the olive oil in a heavy bottomed casserole or pan, and add the garlic, onion and celery. Cook on a low to medium heat until soft, but not coloured. Now add the rice. Turn the heat up slightly and turn it in the onion mixture to coat and toast. Pour over the wine and allow to sizzle and reduce for a couple of minutes. Turn the heat down again to medium and add a ladleful of the warm stock. Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally. Add another dose of stock once the previous amount has been absorbed. The process should take around 20 minutes. When cooked the rice should be cooked through but with a little bite. Season to taste, then allow to rest for two minutes, before beating in the Parmesan and other tablespoon of butter. Finish by garnishing with the tomatoes, courgettes and pesto.