Even though summer got a late start here in Seattle, I’ve had good luck with my warm season crops, especially my zucchini. We’ve harvested thirteen ladyfinger-sized squash so far and have loads more on the way.Most summer squash you see at the store are about 12 inches long, but I like to harvest mine when they are 4 to 6 inches long. At this stage the squash are so sweet and tender, you can practically eat them raw.
The mild flavor of summer squash pairs up so well with herbs, especially parsley, basil, and sage. For a simple weeknight supper, I often sauté zucchini in a bit of butter, toss it with a few tablespoons of freshly made pesto, and serve it over soft polenta. It’s fast, pretty and so delicious.
But when I have a bit more time, I like making risotto studded with half moons of zucchini, slivered garlic, ribbons of basil and some lemon zest. It tastes bright and fresh–just like summer!
Summer Squash Risotto
Risotto tastes best hot off the stove, but it cools down quickly. I get around this issue by serving it in bowls that have been warmed in the oven for a few minutes. This helps keep the risotto warm throughout the meal. In summer, I like to stuff the leftover risotto into bell peppers and bake them for dinner the next day. In the fall and winter, I stuff chard leaves with risotto, which Mark Bittman happens to discuss in today’s Dining & Wine section in the New York Times.
What you’ll need:
4 6-inch long summer squash (a mix of yellow and green squash looks very pretty)
1 medium yellow onion, minced
4 tablespoons of butter
2 cups Arborio rice
¼ cup dry white wine
4 cups of water
4 cups of vegetable broth
2 large garlic cloves, slivered
¼ cup of basil leaves lightly packed
½ tsp lemon zest
½ cup finely grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper
1. In a heavy bottomed pan (I use an enameled Dutch oven), melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. When the butter foams, add in the onions, give them a good stir, and cook until they are very soft and translucent. In a medium saucepan, combine the water and the vegetable broth and bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat so the broth mixture stays at a low simmer.
2. Meanwhile, wash the zucchinis and trim off their stem and flower ends. Cut the zucchinis in half lengthwise and then slice each half into thin half moons (about ½ inch thick). You should end up with about 2 cups of sliced zucchini. To slice the basil into ribbons, stack 3 or 4 similar sized leaves on top of each other. Roll the leaves up into a tube shape and then slice the tube into thin pieces.
3. Add the rice to the softened onions and stir to coat the grains with butter. Cook, stirring constantly, until a white oval is visible at the center of each grain. Pour in the white wine and stir until it is completely absorbed.
4. Then, begin adding one cup of the broth to the rice at a time. After each addition of broth give the rice a good stir to keep it from sticking and wait until all the liquid is absorbed by the grains before pouring in the next cup.
5. Add the zucchini and garlic to the rice after the 6th cup of broth has been added to the risotto and absorbed.
6. Then, continue adding the broth to the risotto ½ cup at a time until the rice is cooked and the zucchini is just barely tender. In her excellent cookbook The Splendid Table, Lynne Rosetto Kasper offers this advice for determining when risotto is perfectly cooked: “A good risotto is tender, but still a little firm to the bite—never mushy. Some prefer risotto creamier than other, but it is never soupy or dry.”
7. Once your risotto reaches your preferred texture and consistency, remove it from the heat. Stir in the lemon zest, Parmesan cheese, 2 remaining tablespoons of butter, and the basil. Adjust the seasonings to taste with salt and pepper. Let the risotto set aside for a few minutes. If you want the zucchini to soften up just a bit more, cover the pan. Serve the risotto in warmed bowls and pass extra cheese at the table.