Today’s post is about every cloud having a silver lining when dinner needs to be made.
The ‘cloud’ in question was the lack of an ingredient – proper, nice locally grown romanesque courgettes/zucchine such as the ones shown in the photo above. The ‘silver’ turned out to be my having to add asparagus to the recipe, in order to bolster the overall taste, and the result is the recipe I am writing about today.
It is very easy to find the romanesque cougettes where I live, the markets and veggie shops sell them all the time (sometimes even when they are theoretically out of season). It just so happened that for various reasons of busyness and business, I had to perforce opt for my least favourite place for sourcing vegetables – the supermarket. You should have seen my face, I was hardly able to contain a surly stance as I looked around. Most of the veggies looked sad or came in plastic packaging. The artihcokes were floppy instead of firm. Onions hailing from Argentina and Egypt???? What, we can’t grow onions in Italy? Garlic from Morocco. Don’t get me started. And, just as I had surmised, there wasn’t a local romanesque courgette to be seen, only those dark green tasteless kind, very fleshy, very watery and seriously unappetising unless you choose to jolly them up with all kinds of gastronomic bells and whistles. Yes, I do boycott supermarkets because I think their policies towards producers are thoroughly reprehensible but that is not the only reason: you simply cannot compare their produce with the good stuff sold at markets and greengrocers. No contest. Harumphm, sniff and snort, thus spake Frascati Cooking That’s Amore. I had to grudgingly admit that the asparagus weren’t bad looking, so I bought two bunches.
Once home, I got on with the risotto. Since the end result was actually very good indeed, I have to do an about-turn and say to myself that it was thanks to the forced option of dark green courgettes that I came up with the recipe in the first place. There you go, always a bit of Pollyanna lurking about in me.
This risotto was in honour of visitors from New Zealand, Belinda and her husband Peter, together with friends Alison and Gary. That’s why I am calling this the “Belinda Risotto”.
Okay on with the recipe now.
Courgettes/zucchine, asparagus, 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, carnaroli or vialone nano rice (arborio will do it that’s all you can find), olive oil, half a lemon, mascarpone, one apple, parmesan, fresh mint, a teensy amount of fresh rosemary.
COURGETTES: I started by slicing HALF the courgettes into rounds which I set aside, and slicing the other HALF into rounds which I then roasted in the oven until they were cooked.
ASPARAGUS: I trimmed the asparagus of its points, then cut the rest of the asparagus spear also into thick rounds. I used what was left of the asparagus spears to boil into an aparagus ‘stock’ of sorts.
On the left … I chopped up the carrot, onion and celery and sweated them down in extra virgin olive oil before adding the courgettes. On the right, are the tough part of the asparagus spears that I was simmering for about 15 minutes.
I threw them away and kept the cooked water to use as stock for the risotto.
I transferred the cooked courgettes into a saucepan and added the asparagus stock – and proceeded to blend all the ingredients into a thick creamy stock. I added a little squeeze of lemon juice.
While all this was going on, in the meantime, this is what I was doing with the OTHER HALF of the courgettes:
I coated them with olive oil.
And roasted them in the oven until they went a nice golden colour.
I added more water to the asparagus and courgette stock and got it simmering. I dropped a large tablespoon of butter into it for good measure.
And now I could get cracking the the risotto. As you can see from this photo, the stock is simmering away in the background and the risotto is being toasted in the foreground. Please notice: no olive oil, no butter, no nuffink. Once the rice turns pearly white, add a ladle of the hot stock, let it get absorbed, and add more.
A risotto will take about 18-20 minutes to cook. Once you are getting close to the end, add the asparagus that you chopped up, as well as the spears. Keeping stirring and keep adding the stock. Taste and add salt and pepper.
Add the roasted courgette rounds, the mint and the rosemary. Nearly there.
And here is the touch of cheat’s genius: a good dollop of mascarpone. Add some of the grated parmesan too, at this point, and taste. You might need more salt, a twist of white pepper would not go astray. A little bit of butter will also help.
This was a serving of the risotto the next day, i.e. the leftovers. I didn’t get a chance to take photos as I was serving the risotto, there was too much chatting going on and people’s appetites were more than ready for quick relief. Those pretty flowers are flowers that I picked from my chives on the balcony. Look closely and you’ll see a couple of little cubes: those are bits of apple. The apple complemented the dish really well.
Thank you for inspiring me Belinda!