Tomato, Pancetta & Caramelized Onion Risotto

8 Servings
2 hr

This decadent recipe features caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes, and rich pancetta. There are few words that better describe this dish than drool-worthy and addicting. It’s definitely not one you want to miss!

A Crowd Pleaser, Favorite Favorite, and Everything In Between

Risotto is just one of those dishes where when it’s good, it’s really good. There’s a complexity to risotto that intimidates people, but also impresses them. Risotto is one of my favorite meals to make if I’m having guests over. For starters, who doesn’t like risotto? Second, I know if I’m patient that I’ll have a beautiful, creamy risotto. It’s more elevated than pasta but still a comfort meal, which makes it the perfect main course for a dinner!

I’m sure by now, it’s no secret that I love a good risotto recipe. And while I love all my risotto recipes equally, this one has a special place in my heart. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for anything with caramelized onions. But the combination of the caramelized onions, pancetta, AND tomatoes is just something else. The best part of it all is that the flavors build on one another. So you’re really able to get a rich flavor profile in this recipe with a lot of depth.

As mentioned before, risotto can be intimidating. The true key to this recipe is taking it slow and being patient. While it’s important to read every recipe from start to finish before beginning, this one requires you to really pay attention. There’s a lot of different steps here, taking ingredients on and off heat, and so on. You can 100% master risotto! It just takes patience. So, make sure you have plenty of time and take it one step at a time.

This creamy risotto is finished with basil, fresh tomatoes and parmesan to tie everything together.

Caramelized Onions

Caramelized onions are my favorite way to use onions. They instantly add a decadence to any recipe, no matter how simple the dish may be. Like risotto, caramelized onions just take time- and patience. That’s definitely the theme for this recipe!

First, what kind of onion do you use to make caramelized onions? Each onion from red onions to shallots have a different flavor profile and will affect the overall taste of the dish. Yellow onions are best when caramelizing because they allow you to build flavor to your dish. As well, yellow onions have a bit of sweetness to them that the butter pulls out when caramelizing.

How To Make Caramelized Onions

Now that that’s covered, let’s dive right into it! Start by adding one stick of unsalted butter to a cast iron Dutch oven or large pot. We’ll be using the same pot to build the risotto in, so make sure it’s deep. Allow the butter to melt over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once the butter has melted, then add one julienned yellow onion. Begin stirring the onions and once you hear the sizzling of the butter and onions, reduce the heat to medium-low. We want to avoid burning the onions or browning the butter here.

Season the onions with half a teaspoon of black pepper and one fourth teaspoon of salt. You’re going to continue stirring for another 30 minutes. This is just the start to your arm workout via risotto making! While you can take breaks, it’s important to keep the onions moving so they all caramelize evenly. If the onions start to crisp up on the edges or the butter bubbles, reduce the heat to low. After about 15 minutes, add two tablespoons of chicken broth and one teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce. The chicken broth will deglaze the pan and add additional flavors. And while some people add balsamic vinegar or a bit of sugar here, I like the complexity of Worcestershire sauce. It’s a little sweet from the molasses, while also being savory with a hint of spice.

Continue to stir for another 15 minutes. The onions should be soft and have a rich golden brown color by this point. Here’s some tips for how to tell when the caramelized onions are finished:

  1. They’re soft and shrunken. It’s a little like cooking spinach- when you’re done cooking, it should look like you kind of wonder where it all went.
  2. Is there still butter in the pan? It should be absorbed by the onions- same with the chicken broth and Worcestershire sauce.
  3. Taste them! Like pasta, this is sometimes the best way to tell when something is finished cooking. It should taste rich, soft and delicious.

Once the onions are done, remove them from the pot and allow them to cool. From start to finish, it should take 40-50 minutes to make caramelized onions. I know this sounds like a long time, but this is not a process that can be rushed. Trust me when I say the end result is SO worth it!

The hints of pancetta give the risotto a little healthy fat which makes the flavors that much richer!

Next Up: The Pancetta

After the caramelized onions have been removed from the pot, add half a cup of diced pancetta directly to the pot. No oil or butter necessary! The fat from the pancetta combined with any leftover oils from the onions will prevent the pork from sticking to the pot. Cook over medium heat for five minutes, until the pancetta is slightly crispy but NOT burnt. Carefully remove the pancetta from the pot and place on a paper towel lined plate. The paper towel will absorb any grease from the pancetta. So, when it’s time for the pancetta to be added back to the recipe, it’s crispy and delicious!

The Tomato Sauce

By now, we already have so many rich flavors in the pot alone. Before we add anything else to the pot, first chop one cup of ripe heirloom tomatoes. Generously season them with salt and pepper, then allow the tomatoes to sit for five minutes. This will bring out the tomato juices and freshness of the tomato. While they’re sitting, it’s now time to add more ingredients into the pot!

Add one teaspoon of olive oil and one minced shallot. Cook the shallot over medium heat, stirring to prevent it from burning, about two minutes. Then, add two diced garlic cloves and stir for one minute. Add the heirloom tomatoes to the pot with one tablespoon of a dried white wine. I like to use a chardonnay, but I’ll leave the wine choice up to you! Allow the vegetables to cook down on medium-low heat for two minutes. Finally, stir in one tablespoon of tomato paste with one tablespoon of fresh basil leaves. Reduce the heat to low and allow this mixture to simmer for five minutes.

After five minutes, turn off the heat and pour the tomato mixture into a food processor. Blend the mixture until smooth, about two minutes. Put a strainer over a bowl to catch the tomato skins and pour the blended mixture through the strainer. After straining, discard of any tomato skins caught. Then, the mixture can sit for a bit! We’ll be using the tomato sauce once our risotto is cooked.

This risotto pairs beautifully with a light red wine, like a Pinot Noir.

Finally Time for the Risotto

Now that the caramelized onions, pancetta, and tomato sauce are cooked, it’s finally time for the main event! Start by adding one teaspoon of olive oil to the pot, then pour in one cup of arborio rice. Add one fourth cup of the same dry white wine you use for the tomato sauce. Toast the rice in the pot for about two minutes. This helps to give the rice itself some flavor before adding the liquid.

Heat up half a cup of chicken broth and pour it into the rice. Stir the rice over medium-low heat to help the rice absorb the liquid. It is crucial to use warm liquid here. Using cold or even room temperature broth will make it that much harder for the rice to absorb the liquid. Not only will it take longer but adding cold liquid will shock the rice. The end result could be a mushy pile of rice, and no one wants that!

Once all of the liquid has been absorbed, repeat this process with two and a half cups of chicken broth. It’s important to add the broth half a cup at a time because it makes the process actually go a little faster, although it may not seem like that. In the end, a total of three cups of chicken broth should be use.

This risotto recipe is the perfect cozy dish to serve up on a cold night!

Adding Everything In

Now that the rice is cooked, it’s time to add everything back in! Start by slowly pouring in the tomato sauce. Gently stir the sauce in to combine with the cooked arborio rice. Then, add one cup of grated parmesan cheese. I know shredded parmesan cheese is easier to use, but freshly grated parmesan integrates so much better and yields a perfectly cheesy dish. Finally, add the cooked pancetta and caramelized onions. Stir everything together to evenly distribute the onions.

At last, the risotto is ready! Serve up the beautiful caramelized onion risotto and top with fresh basil and parmesan cheese. All that’s left to do is eat and enjoy!

Tomato, Pancetta & Caramelized Onion Risotto
Recipe details
  • 8  Servings
  • Prep time: 30 Minutes Cook time: 90 Minutes Total time: 2 hr
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For the Caramelized Onions
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 yellow onion, julienned
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
For the Pancetta
  • 1/2 cup diced pancetta
For the Tomato Sauce
  • 1 cup ripe heirloom tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon basil leaves
For the Risotto
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups chicken broth, warm
  • 1 cup grated parmesan, plus more serving
  • Sliced basil, for serving

For the Caramelized Onions
Add one stick of unsalted butter to a cast iron Dutch oven or large pot
Melt over medium heat, then add one julienned white onion
Stir for five minutes, then season with pepper and salt
Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue stirring for 15 minutes
Add the chicken broth and Worcestershire sauce to deglaze the pot
Continue stirring for 15 minutes
Once the onions are a dark golden brown, remove from the pot and allow to cool
For the Pancetta
Add the diced pancetta to the pot and cook over medium heat for five minutes
After five minutes, the pancetta should be slightly crispy. Remove from the pot and place on a paper towel lined plate to cool.
For the Tomato Sauce
Season the chopped heirloom tomatoes with salt and pepper, then allow to sit for five minutes
Add the olive oil and shallot to the pot over medium heat
Cook for two minutes before adding the diced garlic and cooking for another minute
Then, add the heirloom tomatoes with the white wine
Allow the vegetables to cook down for two to three minutes
Stir in the tomato paste and basil leaves
Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for five minutes
Remove from heat and pour into a food processor
Blend for two minutes until smooth, then pour into a bowl through a strainer
Discard of any tomato skins and set the tomato sauce to the side to cool
For the Risotto
Add the olive oil to the pot and set the heat to medium
Pour in the rice with the white wine and allow the rice to toast for 2-3 minutes
Then, reduce the heat to medium-low and add half a cup of warm chicken broth
Stir continuously so the rice can absorb the liquid
Once all of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, repeat steps 3-4 for the next 2 1/2 cups of chicken broth
After all 3 cups of chicken broth has been added to the rice and absorbed, pour in the tomato sauce
Stir to combine the tomato sauce with the cooked rice
Finally, add the grated parmesan, cooked pancetta and caramelized onions
Turn off the heat and stir to evenly distribute all of the ingredients
Serve the risotto with fresh parmesan and basil leaves
  • Store in an air-tight container for up to five days.
Arianna Litrenta
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