Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Zucchini Risotto with Crispy Bacon, Balsamic Reduction and Parmigiano Crisp

It may be hard to believe with this hot summer-like weather, but today is the first day of fall.  I can feel the seasons shifting - the days are getting shorter, and the nights are cooling down.  For dinner tonight, I am looking for a dish that retains the freshness of summer while moving more towards the typical fall comfort food.  This zucchini risotto is the perfect dish to say goodbye to summer and hello to fall.  I am using fresh lightly sautéed zucchini and water instead of broth to give this dish its summer lightness, however the deep base of caramelized zucchini along with the creaminess of the risotto creates a comforting fall dish.

Here are the ingredients you will need:

  • 5 medium zucchini
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 thick strip bacon
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3-4 cups water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 

Every time I cook I think about how to most efficiently use my kitchen space and tools.  This dish works best if you plan and prep ahead.  Dice 3 of the 5 zucchini by quartering them lengthwise and then chopping to 1cm thickness, and set aside in a bowl.  Grate the the rest of the zucchini and the onion and set aside.  Grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano as well - I use a Microplane, so mine is a "fluffy" unpacked 1 cup.  Finally, slice the bacon into pieces and clean the cutting board, then move on to cooking.

In a large skillet slowly cook the bacon on low heat until a deep golden brown.  The bacon adds a nice saltiness and a crisp texture to this otherwise soft and creamy dish.  Once browned remove and set aside in a bowl.  Add the diced zucchini to the bacon fat plus 1 tbsp of olive oil, 1/2 tbsp salt and 1 tsp red pepper flake and sauté on medium-high for about 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown.  Depending how big your skillet is, it may be best to cook the zucchini in batches - this ensures even browning.

Once browned, set the zucchini aside in a bowl on the counter.  Place the skillet on low heat, add the grated zucchini and onion and season with 1/2 tbsp salt and 1 tsp red pepper flake. Cook on low heat for about an hour - the zucchini will lose all its moisture and become caramelized, as well as concentrated with zucchini flavor.

Left: Uncooked grated zucchini.  Right: Caramelized

Top:  Before the broiler
Bottom:  After the broiler
Now is a good time to start the Parmigiano crisps.  You will need a baking sheet and a silicone mat, which has great non-stick properties.  Scoop 1 tbsp of the grated cheese onto the mat and place under a hot broiler for 60-90 seconds.  Do not shut the oven, do not take your eyes off of these crisps - these will burn quickly.  The cheese will start to bubble, there will be a little smoke and then the crisps will turn a light brown - this is the time to take them out.  Set the baking sheet aside on the counter to cool.  You will carefully peel the crisps off before plating.

Next make the balsamic reduction. Pour 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar into a small sauce pan and add 1/2 tsp sugar.  Bring to a boil then put the burner to low and simmer until the liquid thickens and coats a spoon, about 5-8 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Top:  Arborio mixed with zucchini
Bottom:  Risotto cooking with wine and water
Once you have developed the zucchini base, add the rice to the skillet and make sure each grain is coated with fat.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the wine - a chardonnay with its richness, butteriness and oakiness is a nice compliment to this dish.  Stir the rice until the wine is absorbed.  Continue by gently mixing in a cup of not-quite-boiling water whenever most of the liquid has been absorbed and the mixture is no longer soupy.  It is important to adjust the burner to keep a slow simmer to avoid cooking the rice too quickly.  Keep adding water until the rice is al dente, where each kernel still has some resistance and bite to it.  This will take about 20 minutes.

When the rice is done add the diced zucchini and any juices.  Add more water if needed - it is better to have the risotto a little loose before serving, as it will thicken when you add the cheese and as it cools.  At the last minute stir in the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To plate, ladle 2 cups of risotto into a shallow bowl, sprinkle with the crispy bacon, drizzle with the balsamic reduction and top with the Parmigiano crisp.  Serve immediately and enjoy!

And it looks like I'm not the only one cooking zucchini these days.  Check out The Foodie Road Show's Summer Squash Fritters with Sun Gold and Avocado Relish recipe - it looks delicious.  Maybe I'll give it a try  before summer is just a memory!


  1. Wow, that looks amazing! I haven't tried that technique with zucchini so now I am inspired. Great post.

  2. Thanks, I appreciate it! Most of the typical ingredients (chicken stock, butter) that I put into my typical risottos mask the zucchini flavor - so the puree evolved as a means to capture the zucchininess of the dish.

  3. Can't wait to try this...maybe tomorrow!

  4. very impressive lisa!! congrats on the cooking competition & love the blog. hope all is well :)

  5. Thanks Dani! Hope you and J are are doing great, as well. I told Sash that this would be a perfect dish for you two, minus the bacon :)