Are you ready for a hump day treat? Well, get ready because Matt from No Meat Athlete has a KILLER recipe coming your way! This guy is a running monster (he’s trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon!) and a stupendous cook. Go to his site, take a look at his recipes and try not to drool. I dare ya. Seriously, if you haven’t checked out his site, please do. He’s a fabulous blogger and a great running and vegetarian recipe resource – not to mention, in my experience, a really nice guy as well!
Vegetarian Summer Squash Risotto
What’s cookin’, Everythingtarians? My name is Matt, and I write the blog No Meat Athlete, so named because it’s all about marathon training on a vegetarian diet. But what that name doesn’t convey is how much I love to cook! Now, a lot of people have this crazy idea that vegetarian food is boring, so I racked by brain to come up with just the right recipe to share with you today and put that misconception to bed, once and for all.
But how to make Everythingtarians happy? I would need something that meat-eaters and vegetarians alike would eat. Then it hit me—risotto! Perfect as a first course for meat-eaters, terrific as a main course at any vegetarian’s table.
Risotto is a wonderfully comforting food, but most people eat it only in restaurants. People think making risotto means standing over a stove, constantly stirring for half an hour, but it absolutely doesn’t! (Unless you want it to be gummy and mashed pototo-y.) Cooking risotto is actually very simple, and once you make a good one for someone, they’ll love you forever!
There was only one problem—the risotto I usually make is a butternut squash risotto from Anya von Bremzen’s The Greatest Dishes. With our farmers markets flooded with so much great summer squash, it would be a sin to use butternut squash shipped in from some chilly southern hemisphere locale!
So I did a little tinkering, replacing the butternut squash with beautiful, local yellow summer squash, and getting rid of the nutmeg and vanilla that highlight the sweetness of the butternut squash. In their place, I added lemon zest and juice, oregano, and just a little garlic. It’s so tempting, when you’re not cooking directly from a recipe, to keep adding lots and lots of different flavors. But part of the appeal of risotto (and so much other good food) is that it takes one central ingredient, surrounds it with a small supporting cast, and elevates it to mythical heights. And that’s exactly what this one did—the result was light but creamy, with just a few simple flavors—mainly the squash and lemon—that complement each other so well.
Before I give you the recipe, a few things to know about risotto. The main ingredient in all risotto is arborio or carnaroli rice, and as the rice absorbs liquid, it releases its starch and results in the creamy texture for which good risotto is famous. When you cook this type of simple food, it’s an absolute must to get good ingredients. Try to get arborio that’s imported from Italy, use good organic vegetable stock and butter, and as for the cheese—Parmigiano-Reggiano. Yes, it’s expensive, and if you can’t bring yourself to fork over the big bucks, you can use regular parmesan. But Reggiano has this nutty flavor that you just can’t get in domestic parmesan, so if you can, use it!
You might be surprised to see cheese and butter in what’s supposed to be healthy marathon-training food, so let me explain. I believe that healthy food is real food, not food that has had its fat and carbs removed and has been injected with extra protein, Omega-3’s, acai juice, or whatever the nutritional flavor of the week is. Our bodies don’t want fake food, and they absorb so many more nutrients from food that hasn’t been modified in this way. So yes, you’re right that this meal probably isn’t something you should eat every day, but as far as indulgences go, one could do a lot worse than a risotto made from fresh local produce and real, organic ingredients.
With that, I give you the recipe. You’ll notice that unlike that old wives’ tale, there’s not all that much stirring. Just a few minutes at the beginning, then for about 30 seconds every time you add liquid to the rice. Lots of time for blog-reading in between! The texture of good risotto is somewhere between soup and mashed potatoes, so add more or less vegetable stock at the end depending on how you like it. But whatever you do, don’t let it sit for long after it’s finished—it will seize up quickly, and all that soft, creamy goodness will be lost.
Happy eating and training!
Summer Squash Risotto Recipe
Ingredients (for 4 servings)
- 3 small summer squash (about 1.5 pounds), cut into 1.5-inch chunks
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
- zest of one lemon
- juice of half a lemon
- 4 Tbsp butter (I used salted)
- 3 Tbsp olive or canola oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 5 cups vegetable broth
- 1.5 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
- 1/3-1/2 cups grated parmesan
- salt and pepper
Melt 1 Tbsp of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and saute for 3 minutes, then add the garlic and saute for 2 more minutes. Add the squash, oregano, and a pinch of salt, stir for about 2 minutes, then add 1/3 cup of the wine and 1/2 cup of the broth. Cover with a lid and let it cook for about 15 minutes, until the squash is tender.
Bring the vegetable broth to simmer in another small pot. In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the rest of the oil (2 Tbsp) and 1 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Add the rice and stir constantly; don’t let it burn! When you hear the rice start to quietly squeek and hiss (about 3-4 minutes), it’s ready for liquid. Add the rest of the wine (2/3 cup) and stir until it has evaporated. Add one cup of the vegetable broth, and stir constantly in one direction until the liquid is absorbed. Add the cooked squash mixture and the lemon zest, breaking up the larger squash chunks with your spoon.
Add another 3/4 cup of vegetable broth and stir for about 30 seconds, then stop! After the initial 30 seconds, stir only often enough to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot, until the liquid is mostly absorbed. When you can cut a line through the rice with your spoon and it won’t fill in for a few seconds, you’re ready for more broth. Add another 3/4 cup, stir for 30 seconds, and let it absorb.
Repeat this adding, stirring, waiting process until the rice starts to get soft, but is still very firm in the center. Once it is, slightly reduce the amount of broth you’re adding each time. The rice is finished when it’s al dente, just barely firm in the center; it usually takes 20-25 minutes for me.
Once the rice is finished, stir in the remaining 2 Tbsp of butter and most of the Parmigiano, keeping back just a bit to sprinkle at the table. Add about half of the lemon juice; you can add more to taste later. Season to taste with salt and pepper. At this point, additional stirring will thicken the risotto, and adding more stock will make it thinner, so you can find your desired texture. Serve immediately sprinkled with additional Parmigiano and black pepper.