Tomato and Basil Rice Pilaf


While cooking rice for dinner last night, Nonna Serafina’s tomato basil rice came to mind.  I haven’t made her rice dish in years, but I recalled those large nutty grains of arborio rice, chunks of tomatoes, and an explosion of basil flavor in every mouthful.  I had to restrain myself from eating the whole pot.

Nonna’s pilaf was so delicious and so easy to make. She only used rice, but I like to add a little orzo pasta.  If you don’t have orzo, you can use 1 cup of rice total.  Although this recipe calls for Arborio rice, it is not your typical creamy risotto recipe.  This dish has a firmer and drier texture, like most pilafs. 

Tomato Basil Rice Pilaf

Difficulty Rating:  Easy
Makes 4 servings.

3/4 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup orzo pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced (about 3/4 cup)
3/4 cup chopped peeled tomatoes (from a 14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes)
1/2 cup tomato juice reserved from can
1 1/4 cup water
5 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)
Chopped fresh basil leaves (optional)

Rinse rice in cold water until the water runs clear.  Drain rice in a sieve or colander lined with clean dishcloth. 

Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan over medium heat, until butter is melted.  Add onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until onion begins to turn translucent. 

Add rice and orzo and cook stirring constantly, until the orzo begins to color, about 5 minutes. 

Stir in remaining ingredients, and season with black pepper as desired.  Cover with a lid and cook on low heat for about 18 to 20 minutes, until rice is just tender (al dente).  Remove from heat and allow to sit covered for 15 minutes.  Discard basil leaves before serving.  Serve pilaf with Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh basil leaves, if desired.

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