Tomato Rice with Zucchini

When I was on kibbutz, a friend of mine from Argentina told me about a dish from his grandmother. It was called red rice (or arroz rojo) and was essentially rice cooked in tomato sauce. It sounded delicious and I was intrigued....
Now fast forward to a lazy and humid Sunday in Montpellier, France. I was sharing an apartment with my friends Lisa and Anna, and we were trying to figure out what to do for dinner.  On a Sunday, most things are shut down. The grocery stores are closed by noon... I've been kicked out of one on a Sunday morning. This particular Sunday, we were determined to cook, despite not having an enormous selection of ingredients sitting around. We had rice, an onion or two, some garlic, yellow squash, cans of tomato puree that we bought accidentally (thought it was just plain tomatoes)....
Laurel leaves

I remembered the red rice that I'd heard about months before, and we set out to make our own version. Riz Rouge! We cooked the rice in a mixture of tomato puree and water with some cubed squash. Lisa's Latin teacher gave us loads of laurel from her garden, so we threw that into the pot, along with some lovely herbes de Provence. It tasted lovely, although we completely overestimated how much rice to use, and ate leftovers for days. In fact, a few days later,  we brought it on a day trip to Sete and mixed in little pieces of jambon crue (fantastic cured ham...you know how I feel about charcuterie.)
I made a version of this tonight. I was going to pretty much recreate it exactly, but when I saw that I only had arborio rice, I changed it up a little. I was really pleased with the results. I definitely recommend you make it!

Tomato Rice with Zucchini 

 This is a recipe that is simple, fun to make and reallllly tasty. I happened to find my favorite kind of zucchini- the little light green ones- but any zucchini (or yellow squash!) will do. And then, just leaving the store, I spotted a white wine dried sausage. Clearly that purchase was made, and I stirred some little chunks of it into the finished rice. So good. If you happen to have some salami or charcuterie, use it! It adds a really nice salty element.  I cooked the zucchini first on it's own for a little before introducing it to the tomatoes and rice, but it's probably not necessary.  

1 cup arborio rice
1 28 oz can pureed tomatoes
3+ cups chicken broth
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups zucchini, cubed
Herbes de Provence  
1/2 cup cured ham or dried sausage, in chunks (optional)
Hard cheese, grated (optional)

In one medium sized pot, add the entire can of tomato puree. Thin out with the chicken broth, stir well, and bring to a boil. (This should be on the back-burner)
Meanwhile, in a large pan, melt butter and add onions and garlic. Cook. Enjoy the smell...butter is a wonderful thing. 
Meanwhile, put the zucchini in a medium pan and cook gently with butter. Don't cook them fully, just let them soften up with the butter a little. 
Add the rice to the onions. Stir to coat everything, and then add a ladle of the hot tomato mixture. Stir constantly. The rice will absorb the tomato sauce. After it absorbs one ladleful, add another, and just keep stirring.  
About halfway through, mix in the zucchini. Continue the process until the rice is cooked al dente and there is a thick, creamy sauce binding the rice and vegetables. You may not end up using all of the tomato mix - save the leftovers for soup.
Take off the heat and incorporate the meat, if using. Season with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence. Top with cheese, if you'd like.

Bon Appetit!

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