Vegetables make us better, and certainly more creative, cooks. It's one thing to master the art of grilling a steak or sautéeing a chicken breast, perfecting the technique until it comes out perfectly every time. But in the end, it's approximately the same technique used every time. When faced with a vegetable, though, the options are almost endless. For instance, the zucchini in my fridge could have been sliced and sautéed in garlic, stewed into a ratatouille, shredded into an egg batter and fried into fritters, or ended up as the base of this light, herb-y risotto.
I often turn to Chez Panisse Vegetables when I have a vegetable rather than an idea for dinner, and this summer squash risotto recipe caught my eye. It's a fairly standard recipe as far as the risotto is concerned—butter, onions, wine, stock, and rice—which means the flavor of the zucchini or summer squash and fresh herbs emerges. My only adaptation was to drizzle in some good balsamic vinegar into the pot shortly before serving; I find that its sweetness and acidity does wonders to balance a rich risotto. It's kind of a little secret.
- 1/4 pound summer squash or zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 squash blossoms (optional)
- 1 medium onion
- 7-8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 cups risotto rice, such as Arborio
- 1/3 cup white wine
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons herbs such as sage, marjoram, savory
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
- 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Bring the stock to a boil in a saucepan and keep at a simmer. In a large, heavy pot melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and saute the onions over medium heat until soft. Add the rice and stir well, ensuring all the grains are coated in fat, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and a couple pinches of salt and allow it to absorb into the rice; once it has add about 1 cup of stock and stir well. Stir often as the stock is absorbed, adding it 1 cup at a time whenever the pot is almost dry again.
In the meantime, melt 2 more tablespoons of butter in a large saute pan over high heat and cook the squash or zucchini until golden. Set aside.
When the rice is nearly soft still with a "chalky" hard center, add the squash or zucchini, squash blossoms, and herbs. Stir well and add more stock. Cook, adding stock if necessary, until the rice is tender, then stir in the remaining butter, Parmesan, and balsamic vinegar. Turn off the heat and cover, allowing the pot to sit for 2 minutes (prepare shallow bowls in the meantime). Ladle into bowls and serve with more Parmesan as a garnish.