I went out to our backyard garden the other day to discover that my first zucchini of the season was ready for picking, and in this house, that means it’s time for…
Comfort food, summer style.
When I mention comfort food to the kids they immediately think of macaroni and cheese. I liked it too when I was a kid, but now I’m an adult, and I’ve come across a grown-up rendition of this classic, one that tickles my comfort-food fancy, and is garden-fresh and healthy to boot.
What we’re serving up today is a creamy, cheesy side-dish delight, zucchini-Parmesan risotto topped with a wonderful tomato and olive compote. You probably think that risotto is time-consuming, difficult to make, and even harder to make right. Think again. It takes about the same time, start to finish, as the kids’ favorite, but is so much more satisfying.
The recipe is driven by the appearance of home-grown, garden-fresh vegetables–you may be seeing tomatoes if you planted early–but the local farm markets are already serving up the goods in plentiful amounts. And for those red-meat eaters in your house, it is a perfect complement for steaks on the grill, an ultimate summer comfort-food plateful.
Here’s what you do:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup minced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
¾ cup uncooked Arborio rice
½ cup white wine
½ teaspoon salt
2 – 2 ½ cups vegetable broth, kept at a low simmer
1 medium zucchini, grated (about 1 ½ cups)
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
fresh ground pepper to taste
3 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
½ cup minced onion
15 pitted Kalamata olives (optional)
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
To make the risotto, heat a large, heavy pot (preferably enamel) and 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup onions and saute’ until they soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and rice and saute’, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and salt and cook and stir until the wine has almost evaporated. Add ½ cup broth and let the rice cook, stirring frequently, until the broth has been absorbed, then add another ½ cup broth and continue stirring. When the rice has been cooking for 10 minutes, add the zucchini and stir to combine. Each time the broth is almost completely absorbed, add another ½ cup, until the broth is gone, or until the rice is tender but still a little chewy, about 25-30 minutes. Remove the risotto from the heat, add the Parmesan cheese and fresh-ground pepper, stir well and cover. Let the pot rest about 10 minutes before serving. It will thicken a bit more.
While the risotto is resting, make the tomato compote. Heat a pan medium high with 2 tbsp. olive oil, and then add the chopped tomatoes. When the tomatoes are hot, add the minced onions and saute’ about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and add the olives, basil, salt and pepper, and mix well. Serve the risotto with a dollop of tomato compote, and garnish with grated Parmesan and fresh basil leaves, sliced into julienne strips.
For a snazzy presentation, transfer the risotto to a bowl and chill for ½ hour. Then divide the risotto and shape into six pancakes, about 1 inch thick. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy skillet over high heat, turn the heat down a bit and sear the cakes about 3-4 minutes on each side, until they are nicely browned. Serve the risotto cakes topped with compote, cheese, and basil garnish.
If you’re not a fan of marinated olives, make the compote without them. My kids like the dish almost as much as they do their favorite mac and cheese, but they prefer it without the compote topping. It’s still a fabulous dish that veritably screams: “COMFORT FOOD!”
The recipe comes courtesy of Didi Emmons’ classic Vegetarian Planet. If you’re interested in experimenting with different and delicious vegetable dishes, it’s one you ought to have on your kitchen bookshelf.