Oh, it is so nice to be back home in Florence after two decades spent in the US! While most of the American population is now starting to celebrate the arrival of fall with a pumpkin latte, here in the rolling hills above my beloved city it is all about the rotation of vegetables in our edible gardens.
While we are somewhat patiently waiting for the olio novo (the seasonal freshly pressed extra-virgin olive oil) that will appear in November, our patches are already growing small bunches of black kale, radicchio, fennel and other winter delicacies. There is a slight overlap between these new crops and what was produced during the summer, and the following recipe is a perfect example on how this reflects naturally at our kitchen counter and on our dining table. For about a month, the last zucchini from the warm season will meet the first leafage of fall on our plates and this recipe is a perfect example of this seasonal transition. This risotto in fact delivers a wonderful balance of the sweet zucchini and onion with the slightly bitter radicchio. The flavors are brought together with the sharp flavor of Parmigiano in this easy-to-prepare dish.
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, cut into thin half-moons
6 cups (1.5 liters) vegetable broth, plus more as needed
1.5 cups (350g) rice for risotto, such as arborio or vialone nano
1 cup (250ml) dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
One piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (optional)
1 small head of radicchio, cored and cut crosswise into thin shreds
3 medium zucchini, cut into 1cm dice
100g freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
High-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, wide skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini, spreading the pieces in a single layer as well as you can. Cook, without stirring, until the undersides are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Be patient—you want the zucchini to brown. Toss the zucchini (if you must stir them, do so very gently, so they don’t break up) and continue cooking, tossing occasionally, until they are lightly browned all over, 8 to 10 minutes more. Transfer the zucchini to a plate and set aside.
Melt the butter with the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet with the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and beginning to brown, 4 or 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting to keep the broth warm while making the risotto.
Add the rice to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until it begins to turn opaque, about 1 minute. Stir in the wine and bring to a simmer. From this point on, you must stir the risotto constantly. Add the Parmigiano rind, if using. Reduce the heat until the liquid is boiling at a steady but not fast pace. Stir until the wine is reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add about a scantcup of the hot broth into the risotto and stir until it is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Repeat the procedure, adding the hot broth in small increments, stirring constantly until the liquid reduces by two-thirds and the rice is barely tender, 18 to 20 minutes. During the last minute, add the zucchini and radicchio. Using a silicone spatula, gently fold them into the risotto, taking care not to mash the zucchini. Just before removing the skillet from the heat, fold the grated Parmigiano into the risotto. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Discard the Parmigiano rind.
Spoon into bowls. Sprinkle with a little grated Parmigiano, finish with a drizzle of the high-quality oil, and serve the risotto immediately.
Note: Be sure to let the zucchini cook until it is nicely browned, otherwise you won’t get the lightly caramelized flavor that makes this so special. It takes time and patience to coax the browning into play, so don’t rush this step.
Wine pairing: Pinot Grigio, Muller Thurgau or Chardonnay