People, I’m getting ready for my summer vacation. In fact, I leave tomorrow. Today will be spent cleaning, packing, unpacking and re-packing, but mostly, it’s going to be spent trying to make sure I don’t forget anything. This is a pipe dream; I will forget something. It may be big, it may be small, but it will happen. However, it happens less when I spend time actually thinking about what I’m doing, which is why I made you risotto this week.
I’m not a savory “starch” person. I don’t crave pasta, rice, or potatoes. They’re just not that big a deal to me, and it’s probably best considering how much cake runs through this house on a daily basis. Risotto is a different story. I love risotto. I could eat it anytime, day or night. More importantly, I love making risotto. It demands your undivided attention for 25 minutes of stirring, during which time you can think, think, think about current events, the world hunger crisis, or what you still need to get done prior to jetting off for three weeks. And I desperately needed those 25 minutes. This one also included some mindless, non-exact chopping, so I squeezed a few bonus minutes in there with the prep work. Oh, and see here? Look at the yellow squash.
I grew those. Yes, ladies and gentleman, after weeks of easy garden weather, the heat of summer is upon us, and my veggies are starting to be ready, even after a few incidents which didn’t bode well, especially for my squash. But here we are: I got two giant ones today, one of which I used in this dish. The other is getting sautéed for a quick lunch while I work.
And the garden is a huge hit. The neighbors? Stunned and delighted. In fact, my neighbor told me last night I inspired them to grow their own vegetable garden, and I saw them tilling up a patch in the backyard the other day. Mr. Table? Skeptical; I think he still believes I’m scurrying out to the local market, buying a few things, and then saying I grew them. Me? I’m stoked; totally thrilled I have yet to kill anything. Yet. So for now, I’m using things as quickly as they get here, and this recipe seemed like a perfect win/win for this week.
And before you tell me it’s 100+ degrees out where you are, I should mention that this isn’t the risotto you would make for yourself in the winter. This one is packed with fresh veggies and a good splash of lemon, and it tastes, somehow, light as air. If you look at the ratios, it’s really almost like serving a big plate of veggies over a small portion of lemon risotto, so I didn’t feel like it was starch-heavy. The risotto wraps its lovely, creamy, lemon-scented texture around your vegetables and before you know it, you have a warm summer meal that won’t weigh you down, but won’t leave you picking around in your pantry later for a snack, either.
In the interest of getting my day started, I’m going to leave you with a few tips on successful risottos in the hopes that you try this. It’s a great way to use up vegetables, too, and the cook time brings even slightly wilted veg back to life.
Surprisingly, I’ve never screwed up a risotto. I’m amazed at that statement, because I would completely be the person to screw up a risotto. Standing there stirring? For 25 minutes? You must be kidding me. But I do it, and it’s incredibly relaxing. Cooking therapy. And I have a 2-year-old running around underfoot, and I still managed to do it while she happily played away with her toys. Thank heavens for independent, content little wee ones.
I think risotto can tell when you’re nervous or rushed, so for this or really any risotto, you need to do a few things in order for it to work:
1. Don’t skimp on the prep work, and don’t set aside something thinking you will do it later. You won’t, unless you have Inspector Gadget arms which can handle tasks while you stir. Have everything chopped, measured, and ready to go before even turning on your pan.
2. Read through your recipe, maybe even several times, to be sure of the order in which you will do things. You don’t want to be caught mid-stir not knowing when to add what or fluttering around the kitchen trying to gather things up last-minute.
3. Don’t get all intense about your stirring. After all, you’re not trying to beat it to death; you’re just trying to incorporate ingredients. So slow down, take your time, and lazily stir. Relaaaaax; you don’t get extra points for how many strokes per minute you can manage. I realize sometimes tension comes along unconsciously; take, for instance, people and their knitting habits. My grandmother, who has known how to knit since she was a wee infant, it seems, has such a relaxed way of knitting she can actually fall asleep while doing it. And I mean like, fisherman’s knit sweaters, people; complicated stuff. My mother, on the other hand, knits like she’s pouring hydrochloric acid from one test tube to another. I can barely watch her; she’s so tense about it that it makes me tense. And she’s good at so many other things; just not so much with the knitting. My point? She gets nervous and overthinks things, which leads to painful knitting.
Moral of the story? Don’t painfully knit this risotto. You’re not working with chemicals here; you’re working with vegetables, and cheese, and lemons. Look at that: does that look tense to you? No. Just continually stir, don’t walk away from it, have everything close by and prepped, and you will be golden.
And you will have an excellent lunch or dinner. Now, I need to go finish packing because you and me? We’re headed to the beach house tomorrow. And I’ll be posting the entire time, and cooking up some summer for you between dips in the pool, thrift store shopping, and beach romps.
PS: Very sorry for the sub-par photos this week. Frantic packing + doing 10 other things at the same time = random photo quality.
Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, July 2011 edition. You can find the original recipe here.
Summer Lemon-Vegetable Risotto
- 8 ounces asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 8 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed
- 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 (8-ounce) zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
- 1 (8-ounce) yellow squash, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
- 4 1/4 cups unsalted vegetable broth*
- 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
- 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon (2-3 tablespoons, to taste)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add asparagus and peas; cook for 2-3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons olive oil to pan and swirl to coat. Add zucchini and squash to pan in a single layer. If you want an even browning, lay your slices in the pan in one layer, getting as many as you can in. flip them (like pancakes) once they get browned on one side. I do them this way because getting a good, even brown on them really allows their flavor to come out. Check them every few minutes, flipping them once. In total, this will take between 8-12 minutes, depending on the pan and your desired amount of scorch.
Bring vegetable broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add shallots, and cook for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Stir in rice, and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in wine; cook until liquid is absorbed (about 30 seconds), stirring constantly. Stir in 1 cup broth; cook 5 minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Reserve 1/4 cup broth. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 25 minutes total).
Stir in vegetables; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated, keeping in mind that the warmth of the risotto will continue to warm the vegetables even after removing them from the stove. Remove from heat; stir in reserved 1/4 cup broth, lemon juice and zest, and parmesan cheese. Season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
Serves 3-4 for a lunch or light dinner.