Tomato Rice with Broccoli Rabe and Roasted Garlic

It’s tasty and economical, and with a few additions this humble dish can star at a dinner party!

From Mexico to Malaysia, and just about everywhere else, there are recipes for simple rice and tomato dishes that offer a wide variety of flavors and options. A base for the simple or the complicated, they create a memorable comfort food that spans nations and time. 

Fond memories of my mom’s cooking

In my childhood, my mom made a simple tomato rice dish using Uncle Bens rice, canned tomato juice, an onion and some garlic, and a spice or two if she felt like it. It was easy, economical, filling, and delicious. We usually had this for lunch as my dad was not a fan of rice in any form; he was served it too much in the Navy, he told us. So, this became one of my mom’s dishes she made on snow days or during winter school holidays. I remember fondly, coming in from sledding to find a pot of this waiting for us on the stove, steaming hot. 

Let’s make a few changes

Simple and delicious, and a wonderful technique replacing the rice cooking water with a flavorful juice that is absorbed. But with a few changes, we can serve it at a dinner party if we like! I swapped out the white converted rice for my favorite brown jasmine rice. I love that extra layer of flavor from this heavenly whole grain. I added the extra step of pre-soaking the rice which helps to keep it fluffy and reduces the cooking time.

Enter broccoli rabe

I needed some green in this dish, and a bunch of broccoli rabe (raab, rapini) sitting in my refrigerator volunteered to round out the flavors. I love the bitterness of this wonderful vegetable, and never blanch it out! However, if you prefer a milder taste to the rabe, go ahead and blanch it for a couple of minutes in salted, boiling water to take off the edge. Taste it first though, because it varies greatly in bitterness. If you can’t find rabe, you can substitute broccolini (a broccoli hybrid), or even regular, garden-variety broccoli. 

The tomato base

The tomato juice I kept the same, but used a no-salt added variety so I could control the sodium level. Most canned or jarred tomato juice is extremely high in sodium. I have also used tomato paste reconstituted by four times with water to stand in for the juice, and if you like, you can use a vegetable blend juice that you think tastes good.

To balance the bitterness and acid of the tomato, I used sweet leeks instead of a stronger onion. 

The pine nuts, choose wisely

Of course, it needed crunch! So, a topping of pine nuts ( also called piñón, pinoli, or pignoli) was a perfect slightly crunchy, buttery addition. 

Look for the country of origin for the nuts, actually seeds, and choose Spanish or Italian nuts. They are longer and smoother than the cheaper (but not by much) and unfortunately most market-prevalent species from China which you don’t want. The Chinese variety is shorter and have a dark tip. They can also cause “pine mouth” a bitter taste in the mouth that can last for days or weeks and make everything you eat or drink taste bitter or metallic. This often does not happen until a day or two after you eat the nuts. Let the buyer beware! I find my Italian ones at the health food store, but Hannaford markets carries them in their organic section, sometimes. They are also sometimes disguised as coming from Italy with Italian wording, but learn to recognize what the Chinese variety actually looks like:

The nuts on the left are grown in China. They are smaller, have a dark tip. The ones on the right are grown in Italy (or Spain) and are longer, smoother, and no large dark tip.

My husband came home from the market proudly offering what he thought were the italian nuts I asked for. Closer examination, and the container said “packed in the US” and the nuts were obviously the Chinese variety above.

However, if you don’t want make six stops sourcing the good pine nuts, use any nut you like, but try for something buttery like a walnut or Brazil nut. I’d use local butternuts, but my secret tree did not seem to produce much this year, so I’m afraid it might be infected with the blight that has hit our beautiful butternut trees in the northeast.

Roast the garlic, or not

Pan roasting the garlic adds another little delight to the rice, but if you don’t have time, just toss in a few minced cloves along with the spices.

Peasant food or party time

Serve up this tomato rice all by itself in a bowl with a topping of fresh tomatoes or sautéed mushrooms, a bit of Parmesan cheese or vegan alternative and you’ve got a satisfying and comforting supper. Now, to make this dish dinner-party ready, top with a bit of grilled fish or tofu!

Tomato Rice with Rabe and Roasted Garlic

  • 12 -15 fat garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • 1 tsp. crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 ½ cup brown jasmine rice, rinsed and soaked
  • 4 cups low-sodium tomato juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 head broccoli rabe (rapini), trimmed and chopped
  • 1/3 cup toasted Italian Pine nuts, or walnuts 
  • Cherry tomatoes or sautéed mushrooms and fresh basil to garnish

Prep: Remove the garlic cloves from the head, keeping them in tact when peeling; if you have trouble peeling, pop them in the microwave for a few seconds. Trim off the ends of the rabe and chop into desired lengths. Clean the leeks well and slice them. Toast the Pinenuts lightly in a dry sauté pan, then crush them a bit, leaving a few whole. Halve the cherry tomatoes if using or sauté a few mushrooms. Rinse the rice well and let it soak for about a half hour to an hour, or longer if you remember to do so.

In a large sauté pan, place the garlic cloves in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Over medium-low heat, pan roast the garlic until it is fragrant and light brown. This will take about 8 minutes. Remove them from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, add a bit more olive oil and cook the leeks until softened. Add the fennel and bay leaf and cook another minute. Drain the rice, add to the pot, and stir to coat all the grains. Add the tomato juice and seasonings, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is almost cooked. You might have to add a bit more water toward the end. The pre-soak will shorten the cook time considerably.

Toss in the rabe, chop the roasted garlic roughly and toss that in too, mix well, cover, and cook until everything is tender.

Plate, add tomatoes or mushrooms to garnish if using, top with the nuts, and fresh torn basil leaves if you have them around.

You can also add a piece of fish to dress it up for a Sunday feast!

Sylvia’s Tomato Rice

  • Butter
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup Uncle Ben’s
  • 2 cups tomato juice
  • Dried basil or oregano

            Cook onions in butter and garlic. Combine and cook until rice is done.

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40 Comments Add yours

  1. A lovely dish Dorothy, and red and green for the holidays! Thank you for all the info on pine nuts, that Pine Mouth sounds horrible!!

    1. I know! I heard someone mention it as a gathering and I went home and looked it up. Amazing, but not surprising at all considering the quality of the food that they allow imported from China.

  2. Chef Mimi says:

    Very nice! Hearty and great flavors. I love pine nuts!

    1. Thank you Mimi! I love them too, so buttery.

  3. Ally Bean says:

    This looks delicious. I like your advice about tomato paste being reconstituted. I didn’t know that but it makes sense. I think I’ll go with walnuts… if that’s okay with you! 😋

    1. Walnuts are fine Ally! My mom used to always make tomato juice from tomato paste. It was a lot cheaper, and really tastes good!

  4. Rehoboth says:

    wonderful post

  5. Tomato rice is a favorite of mine, so I know I would love this, especially with all the wonderful additions you have here.
    Totally with you re the pine nuts! 🙂

    1. Thank you Ronit! It always says home to me, even in its original version!

  6. JOY journal says:

    And, this will be what we’re having for dinner. Thanks! 😀

    1. Perfect! Enjoy the comfort!

  7. NativeNM says:

    What a great dish for any occasion. I can only imagine how wonderful the aroma is when you are cooking it. I found it quite interesting that your pine nuts were from Italy or Spain. I could have just sent you some New Mexican pinon’s aka pine nuts that grow on Pinon trees here in NM.

    1. Yes, they are grown many places. The only ones I find in these parts are from Spain or Italy, or, of course, China! It’s great you have the local product. I’ve often looked at the big pines around here and wondered….

  8. Suzassippi says:

    I love this recipe! I grew up eating tomato macaroni in a similar style, but love the idea of rice instead. And broccoli rabe is a favorite. Thank you for this inspiring tale, and recipe!

    1. Thank you! Those memories of the foods we had growing up are powerful!

  9. And, another outside the box recipe that looks and sounds amazing. Boy, I wish we lived closer. I’d trade you gardening chores for leftovers. 🙂

    1. Thank you Judy! You’d be welcome any day!

  10. Sowmya says:

    Wonderful recipe. I love the addition of pine nuts

    1. Thank you! The adds a nice touch!

  11. BERNADETTE says:

    This is a delicious update to your Mom’s homey dish. I used to make your Mom’s recipe as a side dish for dinner when I was first married.

    1. Thanks! The original is good, but I do like my updates better. Sorry mom!

  12. terrie gura says:

    This sounds great, especially with brown rice! I love a dish that can be dressed up with a few fine touches.

    But dang it…I just bought a small bag of pine nuts that, by the packaging, made every suggestion that they were grown in California. Upon closer inspection, and thanks to your visual aide about the shape, I found a tiny inked stamp on the front with the “best buy” date. Product of China. AARGH

    1. They are getting really sneaky! The package my husband brought home even had the description of the history of th nut written in both English and Italian! Fraud!!!!

  13. Americaoncoffee says:

    The best ingredients with so much flavor. Superb! 💕

    1. Thank you my friend!

      1. Americaoncoffee says:


  14. I love all the flavor in this recipe. Don’t you love it when food in the refrigerator turns into the perfect addition to a recipe?

    1. Yes! It is like kismet!

  15. Nancy says:

    Mmmm this sounds perfect for a chilly day and comforting as well.
    I never knew that about Pine Nuts… now I know! Thank you!

    1. You’re welcome Nancy! It’s frightening how many food items are allowed in from China, grown/processed in unsanitary conditions using child and prison labor, and they are undercutting other providers and thus further threatening our food supply. In addition to pine nuts, it is most evident in garlic, especially the jarred varieties, seafood, especially shrimp and bay scallops, and dried mushrooms. I always ask the source now!

      1. Nancy says:

        I do look to see where the seafood is from… I like USA waters! Interesting about the dried mushrooms and jarred garlic. Thank you so much for all this information!

      2. Netflix has a documentary series about the sourcing of different foods, and garlic is one of them.

      3. Nancy says:

        Wow! Thanks…!

  16. nancyc says:

    This sounds like a delicious and healthy dish that’s perfect for balancing out all those holiday sweets! 🙂 Thanks for the tip about the pine nuts too!

    1. Thank you Nancy! It tastes like comfort and healthful all rolled into one!

  17. A star dish indeed! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays 🎄

    1. The same to you my friend! 💕❤️💕

  18. Interesting recipe! Looks good 🙂 Thanks for the tip about the pine nuts!!

    1. Thanks Melanie! It’s really delicious, and the addition of the rabe really rounds it out.

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