As you may have noticed, while we’re not vegetarian, we don’t eat a lot of meat either. Growing up in an Asian household and having traveled abroad quite a bit, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t need or want to eat meat at every meal. Actually, about half our meals are vegetarian and the ones that do contain meat have significantly less than the 6-8 oz per serving that many western cookbooks and restaurants seem to espouse. Between the flurry of diets and extreme luxury eating, the average meat intake in America seems to keep climbing higher and higher which is pretty interesting since the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein per day for an active adult is a mere 46-56g (a general rule of thumb is 1 oz of meat contains 7g of protein) meaning you could fulfill your protein requirements for the entire day with one serving. However, having grown up in the Midwest and seeing my patients, friends, and family’s diets, meat is the main character for almost every meal giving you 2-3 times the RDA which is fine because it’s their personal choice. (Unless they have high cholesterol, kidney problems,… then I’m gonna make a house call ;)) I just know that even though I do cardiovascular exercise (kickboxing, aerobics, being chased by the dog–don’t ask , he loves it,…) and cycling at least 40 miles a week, I’m getting plenty of protein eating meat half the time. And no, I don’t look like a skeleton, I have my risotto pot belly 😀
Speaking of which, despite the fact that it’s going to be October in a few days, the sunny skies in normally overcast PDXville have been crystal clear with nary a drop of precipitation in sight. If it weren’t for the occasional dip into the 40s overnight and darkness falling at 7PM instead of 9PM, you’d think it was still June. Oh, Climate Change, thanks for the endless summer and here I didn’t get you anything. So even though it’s almost October, why not make preserved lemons with life’s lemons (hehe) and have a bright, fresh risotto to match the unseasonable weather? If you don’t have preserved lemons you can easily substitute lemon juice and zest to get that bright citrusy taste that pairs so well with the zesty parsley. I decided to brown the butter to add more of a nutty flavor and hopefully complement the squash. Browning the summer squash brings out its sweetness and adds 2g of fiber per serving. Actually, this dish is a good source of fiber with 1.5g/serving coming from the rice and 0.3g/serving from the parsley–anything between 2.5-4.9g per serving is considered a “good source of fiber.” (The Dietary Reference Intakes or DRI established by the National Academy of Sciences gives average estimated nutritional requirements (among other things) and recommends between 21-38g of fiber a day for adults.). So if you add a Cherry Tomato Salad With Miso-Ginger Vinaigrette to round out your evening, like I did, you’ve got got another 1.4g bumping you into the high fiber range with 5.2g in just one meal. Check out Beth Israel Medical Center’s page on dietary fiber for an easy reference on calculating the fiber content of different foods.
Psst, hey you, yes you!
1) Keep a pot of simmering broth on the stove behind the burner you’re using to cook the risotto so you can easily dump a ladleful into the risotto pan cuz it’s actually the simmering broth that cooks the risotto, plumping up those short fat grains into tender toothy rice. I like Better Than Bouillon Mushroom Base when I’m using a vegetarian stock as it provides a lot of flavor (Dare I say meaty?) and doesn’t taste tinny like many commercial vegetable broths. If you have the time and inclination, by all means use homemade.
2) While you do need to stir it frequently, most of the work occurs in the last 5 minutes when the majority of the starches have leached out of the risotto creating a creamy but sticky liquidy matrix that can get stuck to the bottom of your pan. The physical stirring is also what separates the starches from the rice allowing them to create that characteristic creamy, sticky, starchy texture of risotto.
3) Not just any old rice will do. Since you want a creamy, glutinous rice mixture at the end, you need to use rice that will absorb broth while releasing its starches. That said, this won’t work with a low starch, long grain rice like jasmine.
4) Do you have to brown the squash? Couldn’t you just poach them in the conveniently simmering vegetable stock? Yup, of course. I like to brown sweet starchy veggies to help release their flavors, also called the Maillard reaction named after a French chemist that discovered that if you cook anything (meat, bread, vegetables…) that has sugar and proteins in it between the temperatures of 300-500F, you get a browning effect. This creates that delicious “browned” flavor by forming aromatic compounds (like ketones) as well as color changes that combined together alters and improves the smell, taste, and appearance of food. Boiling doesn’t provide much flavor because it doesn’t bring the temperature of food much past 212F and let’s be honest, roasted veggies/meat/shingles taste better than boiled ones, no? For a very readable scientific look at the Maillard reaction and the chemistry of cooking check out Khymos, a blog by organic chemist Martin Lersch.
3 c vegetable stock
2 tsp + 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 c (8 oz) summer squash (I used one of the 14lbs of patty pan squash from our bumper crop), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tbsp butter
1/2 small sweet onion, finely diced
3/4 c arborio rice
1/4 c dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
1/4 preserved lemon (or 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice and 1 tsp lemon zest), minced
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh (1 tsp dried) parsley, chopped
2 tbsp shredded parmesan
In a 2 quart pot bring broth to a simmer then lower heat to maintain at a simmer ~ med-lo. I like to use the burner right behind my risotto pan so it’s easier to ladle in the broth.
In a large sauté pan or skillet with a wide 2-3 inch lip, heat 2 tsp olive oil over medium heat till aromatic but not smoking. Brown squash till tender but still firm/not mushy ~3 minutes per side. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat in same pan till foam subsides and butter starts to brown ~2-3 minutes. Sauté onions till soft and golden ~ 2-3 minutes. Increase heat to med-hi and mix in rice till coated with butter and oil. Sauté for 1-2 minutes which will toast it and add to the flavor (you may notice a nutty aroma as the rice toasts).
Add wine and stir till evaporated. Mix in preserved lemon and lemon juice. Pour in 1/2 c of broth and stir into rice till all of the broth is absorbed by the rice. Continue with remaining broth, 1/2 c at a time, till rice is tender ~ 20 minutes. As the rice cooks it will plump up as it absorbs the broth and releases its starches creating a sticky liquidy matrix. Classically risotto should have a thick liquidy consistency when finished so that it will slowly spread over a plate, not clump together like mashed potatoes but not to worry, this can be fixed with a few tbsp of broth. If your rice is still too firm and you’ve run out of broth just add simmering water 1/2 c at a time as you did with the broth.
Remove from heat and stir in squash, parsley and parmesan. Many classic preparations also have you add a couple tbsp of butter at this point but I feel it tastes plenty rich without. Makes 2 servings.