Last Night’s Dinner: Lemon and Zucchini Risotto with Broccolini and Shrimp

I get a little nervous when Nick takes the first bite of something I’ve prepared and is then silent.  Is he completely disappointed?  Is he about to suggest that we throw the plates in the trash and order pizza?  Fortunately, when I broke the silence last night and asked him if dinner was okay, the response was, “This one is special.  Really outstanding.”

Following the few weeks surrounding our wedding and honeymoon, which were filled with lots of dinners out and convenience foods, I was excited to get back into the kitchen and eat some food we prepared ourselves.  In all of the recent dining out, I’ve had a couple really good risotto dishes, so I decided it was finally time to take a stab at the “Lemony Zucchini Risotto” recipe in The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman.

I received The Food Matters Cookbook last year for my birthday, and I absolutely love the concept behind it- meals based on plants (e.g., veggies, fruits, whole grains) with animal products as a part – but not the center – of the meal.  Think “Linguine with Tomatoes and Clams” rather than “Clams with Linguine and Tomatoes.”

Bittman’s risotto relies on grated zucchini to provide richness, and the “optional” additions of Parmesan and chopped fresh basil really round it out.  Having never made risotto before, I followed the recipe closely, and then topped it with some sauteed shrimp, broccolini, and fresh diced tomatoes.  An impressively fancy meal that, while time-consuming, is also very basic.

Because this is a more complicated recipe, I’m going to swap out my typical narrative style for a more straightforward “cookbook” style:

Lemony Zucchini Risotto (adapted from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook)

Serves 4, Requires 45-60 minutes


1 cup short-grain brown rice

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped (I used vidalia)

Black pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine or water (I used Sauvignon Blanc)

3 to 5 cups of vegetable or chicken stock, or water

4 small or 2 large zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds), grated

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional (but, really, unless you’re vegan, why say no to cheese??)

1 tbsp butter or additional olive oil, optional (I opted for the olive oil)

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish, optional (I highly recommend it)

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Stir in the rice, adjust heat so the water bubbles steadily, and cook without stirring for 10 – 15 minutes.  Drain well.

2. Put the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat.  When it’s hot, add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens (about 5 minutes).  Add rice and stir occasionally, for a couple of minutes.  (Bittman says to cook the rice until it is “glossy and coated with oil”, but mine looked like that as soon as I stirred it in, so I let it go a couple more minutes.)  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add the wine.  Stir and let the liquid bubble away.

3. Gradually add the stock, about 1/2 cup at a time.  Stir after each addition and then every minute or so.  When stock is just about evaporated, add more.  The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry.  Keep the heat medium to medium-high and stir frequently.  (It seemed like I was adding a 1/2 cup every 5 minutes or so.)

4. After about 15 minutes of adding stock, stir in zucchini and cook, stirring, until it releases its liquid and the mixture again becomes dry.  Begin tasting the rice about 5 minutes later; you want it to be tended but with still a tiny bit of crunch.  It could take as long as 45 minutes to reach this stage. When it does, stir in lemon zest and juice, and Parmesan, butter, and basil if you are using them.  Season to taste.  Serve immediately, garnished with additional basil if you like.

So, this last step is where I deviated a bit.  First, at 15 minutes, I had only added 1 1/2 cups of stock to the rice, so I didn’t add the zucchini until 20 minutes of adding stock.  At that point I had added 2 cups (not the 3-5 the recipe calls for).  After adding the zucchini, I think it was about 10 minutes until the rice met my idea of “tender but with a tiny crunch.”

Sauteed Shrimp and Broccolini

At the point of adding the zucchini, I heated another small skillet with about a tbsp of olive oil, and sauteed 1/2 pound of jumbo shrimp, seasoned only with salt and pepper.  When the one side was pink, I flipped them over and added a splash of Sauvignon Blanc in there with them.  When the other side was pink, I removed them from the skillet.  Then I added about 6 stalks of broccolini and a little water (maybe 1/4 inch deep) to the skillet and covered.  After letting them steam for about 4-5 minutes (they should be bright green), I drained the remaining water and adding a little more olive oil and another splash of Sauvignon Blanc to the skillet.  Tossed the broccolini for a minute or so, then removed from heat.

Once risotto was finished (technically I did not serve “immediately” since the broccolini was still cooking, but I don’t think it was problematic), I placed a serving in a bowl, arranged broccolini stalks around and shrimp on top in the center.  Sprinkle with some chopped fresh tomato (room temperature) and a little more chopped fresh basil.

*Please note that the shrimp and broccolini portions are for two people and the risotto yields 4 servings.  This allowed Nick to go back for a little more risotto.  And it meant I had an awesome lunch today: put a handful of raw baby spinach in a microwave-safe bowl, top with leftover risotto and heat for a minute or two, until spinach is mostly wilted.   Stir spinach into risotto and top with chopped tomatoes and basil.


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