Quite possibly my main source of inspiration to create new recipes is to use up what I have in the perishables department. I loathe waste and try really hard to not throw away perfectly good food just because it is a little past its used by date. This Risoni Bake was one of these occasions.
I am an absolute sucker for tomatoes but not just your stock standard variety, I mean those glorious colourful, meaty ones that are not usually available at the supermarket. You have to go to a farmers market or specialty supermarket to get them and if they are there it is guaranteed that I will over purchase by a country mile. This usually turns out to be a great thing as I then set about creating something that is hopefully going to showcase the produce, let it shine so to speak. I do believe this simple Risoni Bake did just that. The risoni was merely the vehicle for these star studded, bowl ripened, juicy tomatoes. The flavour was totally intensified by the bake and the heightened sweetness of the tomatoes along with nutty pesto and creamy, molten bocconcini made for the perfect topper to what would have otherwise been a relatively stock standard meal.
It is a vegetarian delight, with chunks of golden eggplant and sweet, caramelised fennel to replace the ‘meat’ and loads of herbs, garlic and lemon to totally elevate the flavour. It just reinforces to me that vegetarian food need not be boring, in fact, it can be super exciting!
I use my homemade pesto for this recipe as I have never liked the shop bought variety. The link to the recipe will be in the ingredients list below. It takes just minutes and tastes so much better but if you are really pushed for time, store bought is fine.
Prep time: 25 Minutes
Cooking time: 30 Minutes
$$ Medium Budget
Olive oil for frying
1 large brown onion, diced
1 baby fennel bulb or half a large fennel, diced
1 large eggplant, cut into 2cm chunks
6 sprigs of oregano, leaves removed and finely chopped
8 thyme sprigs, leaves removed and stalks discarded
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 cup of risoni
11/2 cups of chicken stock
1 x 400gm tin of cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese
1 cup of basil leaves, roughly chopped
1 tsp of sugar
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Chilli flakes and Basil leaves to garnish
Lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
For the Topper:
4 -6 Heirloom variety tomatoes (or the tastiest tomatoes you can find, perhaps leave them in a bowl to ripen for a few days to intensify the flavour), sliced thickly
3 tbs of homemade pesto https://emsfoodforfriends.com.au/basil-pesto/
Preheat the oven to 200°C
To make the Risoni Bake, heat a large heavy based, oven proof pan and add a good lug of olive oil. If you don’t have an ovenproof one, just use a normal frypan and then transfer to an ovenproof dish before adding the topper. Fry the eggplant until golden, you may need to add a little more oil as eggplant is an extremely thirsty vegetable. Once golden, place on a plate lined with paper towel to absorb some of the oil.
In the same pan, add a little more oil and lightly fry the onion until just softening before adding the garlic, fennel, oregano, thyme and lemon rind. Stir to combine and allow the fennel to soften before adding the risoni, tin tomatoes, stock, sugar and seasoning with a good amount of salt and pepper. Give it a really good stir (as risoni has a tendency to stick) and bring to a simmer for a few minutes before finishing off with the parmesan and roughly chopped basil leaves. This is the point where you would transfer to an ovenproof dish.
Turn the heat off and top the risoni bake with tomato slices, torn bocconcini and dollops of pesto. Bake in the oven for approximately 15-20 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbling. You can pop a teaspoon in the side of the dish and taste a little of the risoni if you are unsure as to wether it is cooked or not but it literally takes no time at all.
Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before drizzling with lemon juice and olive oil and sprinkling with chilli flakes and baby basil leaves. I served this with a crisp salad of witlof, rocket, radicchio and cos lettuce.