Friday, April 25, 2008

Zucchini Risotto

When it comes to cooking, there is no such thing as too much improvisation. Unless, of course, you are teaching a class. Sure, there are some little substitutions I am happy to make in a class: Spanish mackerel for bluefish, mint for cilantro, rib-eye for New York strip... As long as the basic technique of the dish is the same, I'll throw in pretty much anything. But adding a completely new dish to the class last minute -- that's a big no-no in my book. Why not? Because the students need recipes and recipes need testing (at least if I want to guarantee that the dish will come out just as well when my students are on their own rather than in my kitchen).

But cooking ideas have a mind of their own and if one particularly good one shows up a few hours before class, I am not going to show it the door. Last week, I taught a Spring Fling class to give people ideas on what to do with spring produce. I had my menu all planned out; but when I looked at the allergy info for my students, I realized that I am in a bit of a pickle. One student was gluten-free, another was lactose intolerant, and last minute, a girl who was vegan signed up. The parsnip soup, radish spread, asparagus salad, and rhubarb compote were either vegan and gluten-free already or could be easily modified, but the main course was giving me trouble. I still didn't have one as I went shopping the day of class. I crossed my fingers and hoped that something would inspire me, and sure enough something did. Zucchini! I suddenly remembered making a zucchini risotto before and that became our main course.

I decided not to cook zucchini before adding them to the rice, thus allowing their juices to release right into the risotto. This worked like a charm and the risotto turned out beautifully. Since it was the one recipe missing from the handout packet, within a week I started getting e-mails asking for it. Oh-oh, that's what happens when I improvise in class. The good news is that it encouraged me to write down this recipe and to test it by making this awesome risotto again.

Zucchini Risotto

Serves 4 as the first course / 2 as the main course

Note: if using leeks, here is how to clean them properly

4 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced shallot (or leek, or spring onion, or whatever onion you have on hand)
1 cup risotto rice (such as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Violone Nano)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 medium zucchini, grated
1-2 Tbsp butter (optional)
A squirt of fresh lemon juice
A handful of grated parmesan (optional)
  1. Pour the water into a kettle and bring to a boil.
  2. Set a medium-sized, heavy sauce pan over med-low heat. Add the oil and shallots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until completely translucent and tender.
  3. Turn up the heat to medium, add the rice, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2-4 minutes or until the grains are mostly translucent and only white in the center.
  4. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until the wine is absorbed.
  5. Add enough water to cover the rice by 1/2 inch (about 2 cups), 1 tsp kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp table salt), and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the water is absorbed. This is a good time to take a breather from all that stirring. Set the table, get yourself a glass of wine, relax, and save your energy for the finish line stirring. As long as the rice isn't sticking to the bottom of the pot, you are fine. Keep adding water 1/2 cup at a time and stirring as necessary. The less water you have in the pot, the more you have to stir.
  6. After 15 minutes of cooking the rice with water, start tasting it. When it's still a bit crunchy, but close to that perfect al dente stage, stir in zucchini with any accumulated juices, season with salt to taste, and continue cooking stirring constantly and adding water 1/2 cup at a time as necessary so that the rice doesn't stick. Taste the rice every few minutes and as soon as it's almost tender, but still toothsome, turn off the heat.
  7. Add a bit more water if risotto looks stiff. Stir in the butter and a little cheese (if using). Reserve the rest of the cheese to sprinkle on top during serving. Give it a good squirt of lemon, taste and correct seasoning (you might need more lemon juice and/or salt). Cover and let rest 5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with cheese and drizzled with good olive oil.


Julia said...

The risotto looks delicious, and I am also wondering--how did you veganize the radish spread?

Helen said...

I processed radishes and shallots in a food processor, separated some before adding cream cheese, and mixed them with hummus. The hummus served as a binder and it turned out to be a pretty good combination, particularly served on cucumber slices. But I am still partial to the original radish spread recipe.

Chris said...

Made this tonight and it turned out great. First time risotto has "worked" for me. Thanks a lot!

RecipeGirl said...

It looks like a wonderful spring risotto. Pretty picture too!

adele said...

Mmm. I love zucchini risotto, and it sounds like it would be delicious with leeks.

Susan said...

Made this one twice and it came out great both times although the zucchini taste didn't really come through as zucchini instead it was more of bright,green flavor that was enhanced nicely by that squirt of lemon.

I did make one change - I used Asiago instead of Parmesean the second time and it was an even more remarkable - thanks for a new family staple.

may said...

I love risotto, thanks for making me a recipe. I will try it this long weekend.