Risotto is my thing. It just is. Whenever I feel happy, or feel sad, or want fast food, or slow food, I cook risotto. That means that I want it most of the time and make it several times each week. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about tiny fried female zucchini flowers and I loved them so much I thought I had finished exploring recipes with zucchini flowers for their very short season. I was wrong!
I went to the Slow Food Market at the Abbottsford Convent a few weeks ago and I found some beautiful male zucchini flowers. The ones without a tiny zucchino attached. I was inspired by the fact that a brown paper bag full of them was only $4. The old Italian lady I bought them from asked me if I was going to make pasta with them…”no”, I replied with sudden inspiration, “I am making risotto!” I don’t why I was so sure that this was the right thing to do – I had never eaten zucchini flower risotto nor made it before, but it felt right. I wanted to pair two things that I loved so much – risotto and zucchini flowers.
So I went home and searched through my cookbooks. I couldn’t find any recipes that matched my feel of what a zucchini flower risotto should be. Many of them had tomato in them and the delicacy of the flower did not seem to match with the gutsiness of the tomato. So I searched some more. Then I found it – an inspired combination – zucchini flowers and Prosecco. To this I added lots of grated Parmiggiano and some butter. I made it last night to some fanfare from my husband Mark. The beautifully light zucchini flower, the acid fruitness of the Prosecco and the salty parmigiano really are a heavenly combination. Another bonus was that it allowed us to share the rest of the bottle of Prosecco with dinner, which was a bit of a treat.
Prosecco, in case you don’t know, is a lovely dry sparkling wine that originates from the Veneto region of Italy, in the hills just north of Treviso, which is where my mother was born. It is a bit like champagne. You could probably use champagne in this recipe, just make sure you use a dry one. The King Valley in Victoria produces some fine Prosecco such as the one made by Dal Zotto Wines, which is one of my favorites. They have an interesting article about the origins of their Prosecco. Click here to read it.
There are 3 secrets to great risotto:
1. The quality of the rice. I use Italian Carnaroli rice rather than Arborio. You can also use Vialone Nano. I like the texture of the Carnaroli and the larger grain. The grains tend to retain their shape better than Arborio. I buy mine at the Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick, where you are spoilt for choice with types and brands of Italian rice.
2. The quality of the stock. Home made chicken stock is ideal for most risotti, though fish and some vegetable stocks are also good depending on the type of risotto you are making. I always have a supply of 1 cup containers of chicken stock in the freezer. If you don’t make your own, you can buy it from your local fresh chicken shop. I have cheated on occasion and bought some from the chicken shop and was surprised by the quality. Don’t buy the cheap supermarket variety though as you will have a salty and inferior flavour.
3. The proportion of liquid to rice is two to one. So if you use one cup of rice, you need two cups of liquid.
Risotto for me really is fast food. That is because I mostly use the no stir method. This means you can actually go and do something else while it is cooking. It was particularly good when my daughter was little and I worked full time – I would put the risotto on, get a glass of wine, get changed after a long day at work and 12 minutes later, I would be back to do the last 5 minutes of cooking. You can also use the stir method, where you add a bit of warm stock as you go, stirring almost continuously. When I do this, for me it becomes slow food and the stirring action and creation of the risotto is a relaxation within itself.
If you are going to try the recipe below, be quick! Zucchini flower season ends in late summer. So you will either have to bookmark this recipe for next year or else find a supplier. Brad’s Produce in the Yarra Valley grows and supplies various shops around Melbourne with zucchini flowers for an extended season from November to May.
Remember to have a glass of Prosecco whilst enjoying this risotto. E’ delizioso!
Zucchini flower risotto with Prosecco
1 cup Carnaroli rice
1/2 onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup Prosecco
12 – 15 male zucchini flowers
50g unsalted butter
50g grated parmigiano
Salt to taste
Boiling water (just have the kettle on and use a little if needed)
1/4 cup Prosecco extra
Warm the stock and cup of Prosecco in a small saucepan. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottom saucepan. Add the rice and warm it through on medium heat until it is warm enough to still hold in your hand but not browned (pick up a small handful and feel how hot it is). It needs to be the same temperature as the stock/Prosecco mixture. Add the liquid and the onion to the warmed rice, stir. It should be close to boiling. Put a lid on the saucepan, turn down the heat so that there is a slow steady simmer on the rice. This should cook for 12 minutes.
In the meanwhile, prepare the zucchini flowers by removing the stem, the base of the flower and the central pistil. Gently wask and pat dry. Cut each flower into 4 lengthways, reserving 2 whole flowers as a garnish. You can cut the flowers into more pieces but I like to see the larger yellows streaks through the risotto.
Check the risotto after 10 minutes. If the rice is looking completely dry, add a bit of boiling water (2 or 3 tablespoons should do). check the risotto at 12 minutes. Give it a really good stir (to make up for the lack of stirring throughout the cooking). Add the zucchini flowers. Stir again and add a bit more boiling water if dry. Stir a bit more. After a minute or two, taste the rice to see if it is cooked to your liking. If it is, stir in the butter and wait for it to melt then stir again. If it is not yet cooked, add a bit more boiling water and stir, waiting another minute. Salt to taste but remember that the Parmiggiano is also salty so be careful not to over salt.
When the rice is cooked and the butter has been incorporated, add the parmigiano and stir through. Remove from the heat. Add the reserved warmed Prosecco and put a lid on the saucepan. Allow to rest for a minute or two. Serve garnished with reserved zucchini flowers and more parmigiano if desired.