The signal ingredient in this seductive risotto is not the rice; rather, it is dark, sensual olives, the richness of which is softened by both rice and cheese. The tomato concassé topping adds flavor, and the addition of a small amount of red wine enhances the final pairing by adding a layer of flavor that is tied directly to the wine. Use a mix of olives, such as 3 ounces California black olives, 3 ounces Kalamata or Niçoise olives and 2 ounces oil-cured black olives.
Wine recommendations: For a flawless match, consider a Côte du Rhône, Dolcetto d'Alba, or Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
1 pound ripe red tomatoes
1 teaspoon minced fresh basil
Ground black pepper
2 thyme sprigs
4 to 6 cups hot vegetable stock
1/4 cup olive oil
3 shallots, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
Ground black pepper
1/2 cup medium-bodied red wine
8 ounces pitted olives, minced
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) grated dry Jack or Parmigiano cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
Fresh basil sprigs, for garnish
Peel tomatoes by placing them, one at a time, on the tines of a long fork and holding them over a gas flame or hot electric burner, rotating fork constantly so that skins sear evenly. Each tomato will need just 5 to 15 seconds over heat. Let tomatoes cool until you can handle them easily. Use your fingers to remove skins. Cut out stem core, cut each tomato in half horizontally and squeeze out seeds and gel. Chop tomatoes until nearly reduced to pulp and transfer pulp to a strainer lined with cheesecloth and let drain for 20 minutes. Reserve liquid for another use; spoon tomato pulp into small bowl, stir in basil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside, covered, until ready to use. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
Add thyme sprigs to the stock and keep warm over low heat.
Heat olive oil in large sauté pan set over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and sauté until soft and fragrant, 6 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Increase heat to medium. Add rice and stir with wooden spoon until grains begin to turn milky white, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add wine and stir until it is completely absorbed. Add stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until liquid is nearly absorbed. Continue adding stock and stirring until rice is almost done, about 15 minutes. Stir in olives and cheese and continue adding stock and stirring until rice is tender, 3 to 5 minutes more. Add minced basil and parsley and remove from heat. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Divide among individual soup plates, spoon a little concassé over each portion and garnish with basil sprigs.