I am overwhelmed by summer vegetables – in the best possible way! Between my farm-share and delicious looking things I can’t pass up at the farmers market I have lots of veggies filling my fridge. July and August are some of my favorite months for exactly this reason — the abundance of fresh, local food gives the rest of the year something to be jealous about. I try to make meals that highlight these ingredients at their peak and don’t overwhelm their flavor.
I recently made a very good risotto filled with asparagus, zucchini, and spinach. People tend to feel daunted by risotto and the prospect of all that stirring, but it’s actually quite easy to make and has a major wow factor with guests.
I start by prepping all of my ingredients so I don’t have to take time away from stirring to chop. Make sure you cut your produce into bite-sized pieces — no one wants to cut up their risotto.
Then begin sauteing your base in a large pan. I’m partial to cast iron pans for most of my cooking and risotto is no exception. I sauteed one chopped red onion and three cloves of garlic in olive oil.
Risotto is made from Arborio rice, a short-grained variety originally grown in Italy. Arborio rice isn’t milled as much as traditional rice, so it retains more of its starch (which in turn makes your risotto creamy). I haven’t had luck finding good brown Arborio rice, so it is worth being careful about how often you eat risotto (or any white rice). I also try to compensate by making sure my risottos are packed with nutritious vegetables.
Add 1 cup of dry Arborio rice into the pan with the sauteed onions and garlic and begin stirring. After coating the rice in the saute oil begin adding chicken broth/white wine slowly. The standard ratio is 3 parts liquid to 1 part rice. I use mainly chicken broth, but also add some white wine if I have it (maybe 1/2 cup wine to 3 cups broth). It should take about 20 minutes to add the liquid and stir it in. I typically pour some in about every three minutes and then stir until it has been absorbed. I know this sounds complicated, but I promise it really isn’t!
When the rice is nearly done you should fold in your veggies. Keep stirring and adding liquid if needed until the veggies are cooked through (about 10 minutes). An alternative is to roast the veggies in the oven and add them cooked. I do this in the winter with squash, but in the summer I prefer adding the lighter vegetables right into the risotto.
And finally after all that stirring you’ll be left with creamy and delicious risotto! You can sprinkle it with parmesan and serve (in this case I served it over a bed of fresh spinach). Risotto should be eaten hot to avoid any glueyness, but be sure to save your leftovers and capitalize on that glueyness by making risotto cakes the next day (make patties and fry on the stove top).
One final word about summer vegetables — enjoy them! This is when things are at their peak and haven’t been sitting in storage boxes being shipped to us in the winter. Things are fresher and more flavorful, which often means they don’t need as much salt or cheese to liven them up. It also means they have higher nutritional value because vitamins and minerals degrade over time. This is a great time to introduce a friend, spouse, or child to a new vegetable they are unsure about. You might have a conversion experience!