Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer risotto with zucchini and mushrooms

One of my favorite habits is bringing my own lunch.  It helps that I love leftovers.  Sometimes, it is a simple vegetable salad, like roasted beets and fennel, a bit of local mozzarella with a piece of bread from my favorite Orwashers bakery.  Other weeks, its leftovers from weekend cooking or something I prepared for the week on Sunday.  Almost always, it is better than anything I could buy in one of many "cafeterias" with salad and sushi bars right next to each other (does anybody else find it odd?).  Granted, there are many days when I don't bring lunch, but this week I'm looking forward to a lovely risotto with local zucchini, mushrooms, herbs, finished with freshly grated Parmesan.

Now, I know that we are all very busy and the idea of packing a lunch may seem overwhelming.  Not to channel Jamie Oliver, but I want food that helps me get through a very busy day.  So next Sunday, I urge you to hit the farmers' market (or your local grocer), pull out a skillet, dump some rice, sip on a summer white and stir yourself some lunch.  It is a 45 minute effort (think of it as 9 minutes per workday, which is faster than standing in line at Europa cafe) that will reward you every day of the week. 

Risotto with zucchini and mushrooms

1 large or 2 medium zucchini, rinsed and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 pound of cremini mushrooms, scrubbed and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 medium onion (I used the bulb and the greens of a mild spring onion), diced
3 cloves of garlic or 1 head of spring garlic, chopped
The leaves of 6 6 sprigs of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary or savory (I used dried savory from Keith's Farm)
6 - 8 cups of chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 cup of white wine (no need to be fancy, but use something you would drink)
2 cups of risotto rice, such as Arborio
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan
8 sprigs of parsley, chopped
A dozen basil leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium pan, bring the chicken stock to the boil and then reduce the heat to a bare simmer.  Warm a large saute pan over medium-high heat with one tablespoon of olive oil.  Saute the zucchini, stirring occasionally and salting at the end, until yielding and slightly browned.  Move to a bowl.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil and cook the mushrooms over high heat, stirring once in a while until well-browned.  Do not disturb the mushrooms for the first 3 - 4 minutes in the pan.  They will release a lot of water and you want that water to evaporate so that the mushrooms can brown nicely.  Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper and move them to the bowl with zucchini.
Wipe or rinse the pan, then heat the remaining 1 tablespoons of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of butter over low-medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, thyme, and rosemary or savory, and cook until softened and fragrant, but not browning.  Add the rice and stir for 2 -3 minutes to coat the rice with the fat in the pan.  Pour in the wine and stir until most of the wine is absorbed or evaporated.  Now add the hot stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring frequently, until the rice is plump with a slightly chewy center and the "sauce"  leaves traces on the bottom of the pan.  You don't want rice soup but you also don't want rice pilaf.  Think of the desired texture as that of rice pudding, but with stock instead of milk.  This usually takes me at least 20 minutes.  Before you add the last ladleful, fold in the zucchini and the mushrooms.  Add the last of the stock and stir for a bit to let the flavors combine.  Turn off the heat and stir in Parmesan, the last tablespoon of butter, the parsley, the basil, and some pepper.  Taste and add more salt, if needed.  Serve immediately and garnish with more Parmesan, if you like to spoil yourself like that.  Pat yourself on the back for making a delicious and healthy lunch that is a lot better than a turkey club sandwich.  

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