Chapter 3 features a Spring-inspired risotto that I make on a regular basis. My first time making risotto was with a bit of trepidation. All I remember was that it seemed so complicated and I thought all of the stirring would require so much time. As I got comfortable with how risotto rice cooks and the versatile nature of the dish, I loved experimenting using a variety of ingredients.
The recipe in the book is still my absolute favorite, it's delicious and beautiful to look at. The contrast of the creamy risotto rice and the green of the zucchini and pistachios is such a nice combination that always reminds me of springtime in Tuscany. I'll always remember how excited I was to see Vilma when she arrived at my doorstep with a bunch of fresh zucchini. Later, making risotto became a Sunday tradition as I would regularly make risotto for Vincenzo on his day off. He taught me the importance of using good risotto rice - his preference is Carnaroli rice, which is grown in the northern regions of Italy and holds it's shape well when cooked.
Vincenzo also showed me that making risotto is not complicated at all. I always follow his directions as he taught me during all of those Sundays. I made sure to keep his instructions true when I wrote the recipe for the book.
Risotto with Zucchini, Pistachios, and Lemon
1-2 small zucchini, halved and sliced thin (or 1 cup of fresh vegetables, such as asparagus, mushrooms, peas)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 vegetable bouillon cubes dissolved in boiling water (around 1-2 quarts)
1 cup Carnaroli risotto rice (Hint: use ½ cup for every two people)
½ cup white wine (cooking wine or regular white wine)
4 tablespoons butter
Salt (to taste)
4 oz. parmesan cheese (grated)
½ cup chopped pistachios (unsalted)
½ lemon - (zested - optional)
Assemble all ingredients and start by sautéing the sliced zucchini in olive oil for 5-10 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside.
Bring 2 quarts of water to boil. Add bouillon cubes to dissolve. You can also use canned, boxed, or homemade vegetable stock for this. Broth should be warm when adding to the rice as it is cooking. Keep the broth close to the rice on the stove in order to ladle it easily into the rice as it is cooking.
In a sauté pan, warm 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and add the rice. Stir 1-2 minutes until rice is slightly toasted.
Next add the ½ cup of white wine and let the wine evaporate. As the wine evaporates, add one large ladle of broth and simmer the rice. Broth should cover the top of the rice. Keep the rice on medium to low heat to simmer while cooking.
Every 2-3 minutes, add another ladle of broth to the rice and stir. It’s not necessary to stir constantly. Continue adding broth until the rice has cooked 10-12 minutes. This is the midpoint of cooking, and time to add the cooked zucchini.
Next, add in the cooked zucchini (or other vegetables) and continue stirring and adding broth every few minutes. Test the rice at around 20 minutes to see if it done.
Normally, risotto rice takes a total of 20-25 minutes to cook. Mixture should be creamy, white, and tender (not hard inside) when you eat it.
Once the rice is cooked, take off the heat and add in 4 tablespoons of butter and 2 oz. of the grated cheese. Add the lemon zest at this point if you like. Stir well and add salt to taste. If needed, add another ladle of broth depending on the consistency of the rice. It should be creamy, not runny and not too sticky.
Spoon into individual bowls or plates for serving, grate remaining parmesan cheese over the top along with 2 tablespoons of the chopped pistachios and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (if you prefer).
Recipe note: Carnaroli or Arborio rice can be used to make risotto. You can find this in the dry goods area of the grocery store near other types of rice or in the Italian specialty area of the store. We love using Acquarello brand Carnaroli rice - it always stays perfectly al dente!
So, my message to those who've not made risotto before - just give it a try and you'll see how easy this dish is to make. Eventually, you can start to experiment with combinations of vegetables or meats that will inspire you to keep cooking.
Feel free to send a note and contact me if you have questions as you get started! Share your photos, tips, and recipes with us as well!