Rubber Neckin’ Local – Roasted Heirloom Tomato Risotto

I had driven around the area slowly with my head out the window, trying to find my way to the market. I had no idea how I got there, yet there I was at the Marin Farmers Market holding an organic Golden Roma Italian Tomato in my hand. And struggling with an awakening of what to do with my good fortune. Heirloom Tomato Season is in full swing in the Bay Area and this bounty of colorful local produce was being displayed in all its glory. Row after row of foodstuffs brought together from local farmers across Marin County. All part of growing and powerful local food movement driven by rigorously organized and caring citizens like those behind Marin Organic.

My recent move to the San Francisco Bay Area has put me into a pleasantly uncomfortable new world of living, thinking, watching and learning. Just as in any move to a new place, nothing is familiar. I find myself gawking around Marin. New restaurants to discover. Gorgeous organic food to “ogle” at in farmers markets as well as regular supermarkets. Rustic scenery of ancient redwood trees towering above the Pacific Ocean surf. Rubber necking really.

Marin County starts at the north end of the Golden Gate and bridges cutting edge ideas about how to live with others while displaying a “heart on your sleeve” kindness and activism of its local residents. All of that is overlaid upon a naturally beautiful and dramatic setting of passionately worked organic farmland that serves a commitment to growing, selling and feeding its population locally. And in the most sustainable way possible.

The commitment to “local” living here is a true expression that I hope serves as a model for the rest of the country to consider as we all become more aware of the food we eat, how it is grown and where it comes from. This philosophy is embodied in the Slow Food movement that started in Italy by Carlo Petrini and has found its way to the United States. Slow Food is the opposite of "Fast Food" and all that comes with the implications of hurried life. Its logo is a snail. Although Slow Food principles are easy to understand - good, clean and fair food - it’s a lot to take in if you haven’t been exposed to this way of thinking, eating and ultimately living. Prince Charles and Lady Camilla are believers, so you know this idea has legs.

Since moving here I have been surprised by how open locals are to new residents. After being here for all of six days we decided to get involved in the native scene. It turns out this openness is connected to the activism of acting locally. Last Saturday evening we were guests of the gracious and charming editors and managers of Foodbuzz – a rapidly growing on-line community of food lovers. We met up with them at Slow Food Nation, sort of a “coming out” party for Slow Food in the United States which is being championed by legendary Bay Area chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. Serving a worldwide audience, Foodbuzz seeks to create an on-line community for those interested in food on a local, national and worldwide level via community generated publishing of recipes, photos, blogs and restaurant reviews. A way of letting a global community act intimately. Looking at what each other has to offer. In a sense, a very local experience made possible through technology.

Slow Food Nation brought together over 60,000 people from across the country to share in the philosophy of “slowing life down”, eating good food, understanding how that food is farmed and appreciating the taste of locally grown and created cuisine. I was fortunate enough to get into the SFN Taste Pavilion. A 60,000 square foot exhibit hall featuring 15 different categories of food presenting local and sustainable approaches to cooking. So many things to see, do and taste. My head spun as I tried to calm down over the excitement of this amazing scene. We traveled around the pavilion tasting artisan chocolates from different parts of the country. Producers from Utah and Massachusetts sampled a chocolate making approach that is closer to making fine wine than large scale production. We stopped by the Native American foods area that featured bison chili. My first try at what is probably the original “free range” food. In a word – delicious.

And still more to discover, look at, taste, and ponder. Cheeses…Wines…Coffee…Seafood…Honey…Our eyes were moving faster than our mouths. Individual tastes that promoted a sincere understanding of flavor via thoughtful farming and well executed, precision cooking. Producers, farmers and chefs all involved to proudly present and talk about their passionate and thoughtful approach to the food they love. And its growing importance to its impact on the planet. This was a cerebral awakening in the most flavorful of journeys.

Back at the Marin County Farmers Market in San Rafael the next day I was looking around at all of this beautiful food. The previous night was still on my mind. Multi colored peppers that looked like a Santorini sunset over the Aegean. Strawberries that tasted of sugar. Freshly harvested chervil and other herbs. Local. Fresh. Sustainably farmed. This is slow food.

I craned my neck and gawked at stand after stand of brightly colored heirloom tomatoes. They were everywhere. I love tomatoes. Sliced raw. Gently cooked as the star ingredient for a fresh sauce. Roasted for intense sweetness. It really doesn’t matter for me as long as the flavor is true. I came across a local producer who had magical Brandywines, Mr. Stripeys, Persimmons, Green Zebras, Cherokee Purples.

And there it was. Standing by itself. Shining. The Golden Roma Italian Tomato. Glorious. Gourgeous. Plump. Delicious. What could I do with this singularly amazing heirloom fruit? The previous evening’s activities still very much on mind, I wanted to do justice to this beautiful tomato. My mind raced. A tomato tart with bouqerones and manchego? Too complicated. Cool Gazpacho? Possible, and a truer flavor platform. But more like a double then a home run.

I slowed myself down and thought “What would an Italian innovator like Carlo Petrini or a food revolutionary like Alice Waters want to eat if I hosted them for dinner and all I had to work with was this tomato and what was in my cupboard?” Let the ingredient speak for itself. I bought a pint of Straus Family Creamery organic cream and drove home.

Although I have never met Mr. Petrini or Ms. Waters, I think they will like this if I ever get to cook for either of them. It only took a worldwide movement to make me slow down and look around a bit for the answer.

Recipe for Roasted Heirloom Tomato Risotto
Makes 4 servings

5 Heirloom tomatoes (I used Mr. Stripey, Italian Golden Roma, Brandywine and Abraham Lincoln) Fresh thyme sprigs (4 to 6)
2 T plus 1/4 C Olive Oil
Kosher Salt and Pepper
1/2 white onion, chopped
1/2 C dry white wine
1 C arborio rice
4 C vegetable stock or broth
1/4 C cream
6 T freshly grated parmesean with more for serving
2 T fresh basil, julienned

Heat an oven to 325 degrees. Place the tomatoes in a baking or ceramic dish and coat with 2 T olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cover with thyme sprigs. Roast for 35 minutes or until the skins begin to wrinkle.

In a saucepan, warm the vegetable broth over a medium low flame.

Heat another saucepan over medium heat and add the remaining 1/4 C of olive oil. Heat until fairly hot and then add the onions, cooking them until translucent 3-4 minutes. Add the arborio rice stirring to coat each grain with the oil, about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until evaporated about 1 minute. Add enough vegetable stock to the rice until just covered. Stir occasionally. The rice should cook but not boil. Continue to add stock every few minutes as it cooks off. You want to maintain enough stock to cover the rice until the liquid cooks down slightly and then add more. Continue to stir occasionally. You do not want the rice to stick to the pan. The rice is ready in 16-18 minutes and should be creamy consistency. If cooked properly the rice grains will have a very suitable hardness when you bite it.

Turn off the heat and stir in the cream and parmesan cheese. Add salt to taste. Chop the roasted heirloom tomatoes directly in the roasting pan or on a cutting board. Stir the chopped tomatoes into the rice.

To serve ladle the rice into a warmed bowl and top with fresh basil and a few shavings of fresh parmesan.


cook eat FRET said...

absolute perfection...

you northern californians piss me the hell off...

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

This is beautiful! I wish, I wish, I wish. . .I don't even know what I'm wishing for: just one bowl of that risotto will do.

Aran said...

that sounds sooo wonderful!

Lisa said...

I so wish I loved tomatoes. I'm Sicilian, it should be mandatory right? lol. I grow them and give them's just not right. Wait I do use from for sauce! Saved! I really enjoying reading your posts, they are like a mini novel!

We Are Never Full said...

absolutely beautiful. there is nothing (NOTHING) like fresh tomatoes. I'm already cursing the day where I'm forced to eat those mealy, disgusting giant tomatoes throughout the winter.

you're in a wonderful part of the world for food. enjoy it! in fact, we just got back from a trip to SF and you need to head about 2 hours south to gilroy and castroville to experience garlic (gilroy) and artichokes (castroville). you'll be amazed that the air actually smells like the produce they are growing.

Alexa said...

It sounds like you are enjoying discovering the food offerings of your new area.
My kids love risotto and I have some of those sweet heirloom tomatoes from my CSA, I will be making this for dinner tonight. Thanks for the recipe Marc!

Elra said...

I am so glad that you having fun exploring our state. There are many more to discover, have you visit Santa Barbara? How about Palo Alto? Have fun!

You are very imaginative, I would never thought of adding heirloom tomatoes for risotto, in fact I never really cook heirloom tomato. I like it just they way it is. But after reading your recipe, I might have to give it a try. Cheers.

My Sweet & Saucy said...

So wish I couldn't been there for the Slow Food Nation event...what fun! Your risotto sounds simply delicious, especially with your little jewels of tomatoes!

Krysta said...

i have back to read this post twice and i can't wrap my head around this recipe. i know, i know. can you descibe what it tastes like? i would think the tomatoes would totally overpower the risotto, and i'm sure i'm wrong.

also did you make it to point reyes or did you just stay more around marin? and did you see george lucas's compound because it's huge!

dailydesignspot said...

its funny b/c tonight i actually made a dish VERY similar to yours.. after dinner i sat down and did my little tastespotting fix and came across your site.. WONDERFUL!!

take care and keep doing what you do!!


chefectomy said...

CEF - Good night :)

Aran - I can never keep up with your talent but thanks for visiting

Lisa - thanks, I love writing them and glad you enjoy them.

W.A.N.F - Been to both and know what exactly you mean.

Krysta - Risotto is just platform for flavor in my opinion. The roasted heirlooms are sweet but the parmesean and basil provide a counter balance that works. Give it a shot!

noble pig said...

What an incredible way to serve a risotto, so absolutely creative!

Clumbsy Cookie said...

Slow food nation sounds very interesting! But you risotto maybe even more, lol! It looks dorgeous!

Sophie said...

Sigh, the bay area always sounds like such foodie paradise...

I've made a lot of risottos but I've never thought of making a tomato one - thanks for the idea!

Leslie said...

I am soooo very glad you came out of the dark and commented on my site!LOL
Instead of using the onion and garlic powder..I suppose you could just use a bunch of fresh garlic and a whole onion. I normally use the real things..but I hadnt been to the grocery store..and had no garlic..WHAT NO GARLIC??? I know, how is that humanly possible??
Feel free to comment anytime! Dont be shy!LOL

Lori Lynn said...

Heirloom tomatoes, sublime! How fortunate we are nowadays to have them readily available, remember years back, all tomatoes from the store had basically little flavor?
Your risotto looks fabulous, speaking of tomatoes, we made a tomato tarte tatin tonight, everyone loved it. YAY for heirloom tomatoes!

white on rice couple said...

beautiful and deliciously perfect! I just wish I was better at risotto!


Beautiful photos of your creations! May we use your photo of the tomatoes and herb bundle for an ad? Thank you for your consideration.
Kenyon Organics
SLC, Utah


Beautiful photos of your creations! May we use your photo of the tomatoes and herb bundle for an ad? Thank you for your consideration.
Kenyon Organics
SLC, Utah