Recipe: Zucchini and porcini risotto

This is based on something I had at Dal Pescatore this summer. It is not one of Nadia Santini’s recipes. In fact, after three or four tries at perfecting it, I’d say it’s not even close. But it is a nice fall dinner dish and that will have to be good enough for us mortals. Using water instead of broth for some risottos is one trick I learned from the Santinis. It lets the flavor of the other ingredients shine more. You will have to add a little more salt than is normally necessary to make up what is normally absorbed from the broth.

1/2 pound zucchini


10 grams dried porcini mushrooms

1/4 pound plum tomatoes

1 whole clove garlic, peeled

1 stalk celery, minced

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

3 cups short-grain rice, preferably Vialone nano or Arborio

1 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons minced chives

1 teaspoon torn mint leaves

* Trim ends of zucchini and place in bowl with cold, lightly salted water to cover. Soak 30 minutes.

* Combine dried mushrooms and just enough hot water to cover in small bowl. Soak until mushrooms soften, about 20 minutes (place another small bowl on top to weight mushrooms until they’ve absorbed enough water to sink on their own).

* Bring 2 quarts water to boil in large pot. Cut shallow “X” in bottom of tomatoes and add to boiling water. Cook 30 seconds, remove and rinse under cold water. Peel tomatoes, cut in half and squeeze out seeds and chop coarsely. Keep water near boil.

* Shred zucchini on grater or in food processor. Drain mushrooms and squeeze dry, reserving soaking water for making soup. Chop mushrooms fine.

* Cook garlic, celery, parsley and 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat until celery softens, about 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, until rice “sings” dryly when stirred across bottom of pan, about 3 minutes. Add white wine and cook, stirring, until it evaporates.

* Begin adding boiling water to skillet, 1 cup at a time. Cook until each addition of liquid has evaporated, stirring to keep from sticking. After 3 cups of water, add shredded zucchini. Add 1 more cup water and cook down. Add mushrooms and tomatoes and begin adding water 1/2 cup at a time. Total water will be about 5 cups.

* When rice is still slightly chewy but not at all chalky, remove from heat, add remaining 2 tablespoons butter, chives and mint and stir vigorously for 1 minute to mix. Season to taste with salt--it will take about 1 teaspoon because of the lack of broth--and serve immediately.