In the Kitchen: Zucchini and Friends Risotto

More from life in my kitchen.

Risotto has a bad rap here in the U.S.: The Foodies treat it like it’s some exotic gourmet trip, hard to make, requires Ultra-Foodie skills, etc.

Folks, it’s peasant food, for fuck’s sake. And I mean that in the best sense of the word. It’s a way to cook inexpensive starch with whatever else happens to be at hand.

The only “trick” to risotto is that yes, it works best with certain kinds of rice. Conventional “white” Asian rice doesn’t cut it.

The only other advice I’d give is: One, don’t rush it. It should take about 20 minutes. And two, take it off the heat before you think you should.

Anyway, we had risotto tonight, and here’s what I had and did: I cut a zucchini in half and then quartered one of the two pieces and then chopped that sort of fine. (I planned to cook it only in the risotto itself, so I didn’t want huge pieces.)

Then I used a vegetable peeler to create some fine, narrow ribbons with the other half. (I wanted a mixture of textures.) I had some tiny “cherry” tomatoes on hand, so I quartered those. I chopped up a few sprigs of basil. Minced a bit of onion and a tiny bit of garlic. (Go easy on the garlic or it WILL take over the dish.)

Grated a bit of parmesan.

I heated about three cups of chicken stock. Put some olive oil in a ten-inch saute pan. When the oil was medium hot, I added the onion and cooked it a few minutes. I added a generous cup of arborio rice and the garlic and stirred that over the heat a few minutes.

I added a cup or so of stock and began cooking the rice.

This, I think, is where people lose track of what’s going on. All you’re doing is using the stock to cook the rice. This is not rocket science or brain surgery or Wall Street bailouts. You’re cooking rice. Slowly. Over medium heat. Stirring it once in awhile.

When the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, add some more hot stock. Repeat the cook/stir process. Throw in some salt and pepper. When you’re down to your last two hits of stock, add the zucchini. Cook and stir.

Again, you’re allowing the heat of the stock to cook the zuke. Not rocket science. Although I will say that at this point, you should use a large fork to “stir” the rice, so that you can separate the grains and the zuke.

No large forks, you say? Whatsamatterwit you? Okay, use two or three chopsticks as stirring tools.

When you’re down to the last hit of stock (you’re tasting a few grains once in awhile, right? To check for doneness?), add the basil and the tomatoes and toss. Gently.

Add the parmesan and a couple of tablespoons of butter and toss gently.

While there’s still plenty of liquid, turn off the flame or move the pan off the burner. The accumulated heat in the pan will keep things cooking. You want a creamy consistency at the end.

Then I put the rice into two bowls, set a large bowl of cherries on the table (finally! The cherries have arrived!!) and poured some white wine. And proceeded to stuff myself with rice and cherries. Oy. Life does not get much better than this.

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