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Jul 21, 2009
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Wine With . . . Tomato and Corn Risotto by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

Here we are in mid-summer with the first wave of ripe tomatoes on our roof-deck garden storming in like frontrunners crossing the marathon finishing line.  Already we are feeling that sense of summery panic as the Early Girls and the first heirloom varieties plump up and redden on the vine, begging to be picked and immediately savored.  What to do with this bounty?   How many different ways of serving and eating tomatoes can we come up with?  Yes, there is always canning, and freezing, and oven drying, but nothing in the world—nothing!—rivals the sweet-tangy, juicy deliciousness of a freshly plucked tomato.   

We’ve been making all the usual things with our plentiful harvest this year: tomato salads with feta, and with fresh mozzarella; Gazpacho; BLTs; fresh tomato sauce for pasta.  Most recently we cooked up a new dish – a fresh tomato risotto, to which we added a generous fistful of corn--the other gastronomic treasure of summer. We incorporated onion, plenty of garlic, and a touch of red bell pepper into the basic dish, giving the risotto enough heartiness to stand up to a variety of wines.  We served it as a main course followed by a big green salad, but it would make a delicious first course, or a side dish with just about any kind of grilled or roasted meat.

Tomato and Corn Risotto 

For the tomatoes:

2 cups chopped tomatoes

2-3 fresh ears of corn, shucked *

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil

1 teaspoon salt

*If the corn is very fresh it can go in to the mix raw.  If it is less than farm-fresh, add it to the onion and red pepper mixture described below rather than mixing with the tomatoes.

For the risotto:

1 small onion, minced

½ red bell pepper, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil, minced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock or water)

1 cup Arborio rice

1 cup dry white wine

½  cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing at the table

Freshly ground pepper   

In a bowl, combine tomatoes, corn kernels, garlic, olive oil, basil and salt.  Mix well and set aside.

In a large sauté pan cook the onion and pepper in olive oil over medium heat until tender.  Stir in the garlic and cook another minute or two.  Meanwhile, bring the stock to a boil then reduce it to a very low simmer.  Add the rice to the sauté pan with the onion, and stir it over medium high heat for two or three minutes.  Pour in the cup of wine and stir until most of it is absorbed into the rice.  Add a ladleful of warm broth, and stir for a few minutes until it is mostly absorbed.  Continue in this fashion, stirring in ladlefuls of broth one after the other (adjusting the heat as needed) until the rice is tender but still firm.  Add the tomato mixture and continue cooking for about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the 2/3 cup Parmesan.  Spoon into individual bowls and serve at once. 

Serves two as a main course; four as a first course.



Approx. Price


Buena Vista, Carneros (California) Pinot Noir 2006




While we found that reds and whites worked equally well with this fairly substantial summertime dish, we also discovered that those whose appeal came from subtlety tended to lose their appeal.  A delicate Chenin Blanc, for example, turned dull, the acidic zing of the tomatoes overpowering any trace of nuance.  At the same time, a couple of powerful reds (including a southern Italian Nero d’Avola and a Zinfandel) seemed too heavy for it.  The dish needs a fairly assertive wine, but not one with tannins or wood that will get in its way.  While we were a bit disappointed with both a rosé and a Chardonnay that we tried, the former being a touch bitter and the latter too oaky, we wouldn’t hesitate to try different examples of these genres with this risotto.  Chardonnay almost always pairs well with corn, and a well-made rosé should have just the right weight to work with it.  Still “should” isn’t the same as truly “being,” and the five wines recommended here all actually tasted great – each for a different reason.  Any one of them would make a great warm weather match with this dish. 


The inherent sweetness of this cherry-tinged Pinot calmed down in the face of the zesty tomatoes, and a wine that seemed one-dimensional on its own turned complex and complete.  As with all the reds we tried, we chilled it for forty minutes or so in the fridge.  It was just right on an 80 degree evening.




Eugenio Collavini, Collio (Italy) Friulano 2008

(Imported by MW Imports)





This white offered fairly delicate apple and floral flavors and aromas, but its lush, almost fleshy texture allowed its nuances to stay fresh and vibrant when paired with the risotto.  This pairing proved the point that mouth-feel proves as important as flavor when matching wine with food.     




Kenwood Vineyards, Sonoma County (California) Pinot Gris 2008






Showing true varietal pear and stone fruit flavors, without excessive sweetness, this ripe-flavored white tasted lush.  It complemented the creamy risotto very nicely, while providing a counterpoint to the zesty flavor of the tomatoes.




Robert Skali, Languedoc (France) Syrah/ Grenache “Réserve” 2007

(Imported by SFW Americas)




This southern French red displays hints of thyme, lavender, and other (dried) herbs behind its juicy overlay of red fruit.  Those secondary flavors became more pronounced when paired with the risotto, as the basil in the dish seemed to coax them into exuberance.   





Sauvignon Republic, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Sauvignon Blanc 2008

(Imported by Sauvignon Republic, Inc.)







The lightest wine we are recommending, this vibrant Sauvignon worked well because of its racy, zesty character, something that echoes and enhanced the tomatoes.  Other light whites fell flat, but this edgy one shone brightly.