Our zucchini plant may be on its last legs, but the tomatoes just keep coming. On any given day we have a bowl of maybe 20 ripe tomatoes sitting on our kitchen counter just waiting for inspiration to strike. All of this goes to say that when I search through recipes that I might want to make in the upcoming week, those that include tomatoes leap to the front of the list. I had been thinking about a tomato risotto when I spotted this recipe in Didi Emmons’ Vegetarian Planet and decided a risotto cake sounded like a fun alternative to a traditional risotto.
Indeed the idea of a risotto cake is fun in principle, but was a little harder than expected in practice. At the end of the first phase of cooking, we had a lovely zucchini risotto, mild and creamy, which would have been perfectly nice served as-is. After letting it cool, I formed it into patties, according to directions, and they seemed stable enough, but when I tried to flip them over in the pan, my risotto cake turned into more of a risotto crumble. Any tips on how to avoid that next time?
Even if the presentation ended up being a little less refined than I might have hoped, the crunchiness that came from lightly pan frying the cake was scrumptious. The crispy browned bits definitely put an interesting and tasty spin on the traditional creaminess of risotto. The next day we spread the rest of the leftover zucchini risotto “cakes” into a single layer in an oven proof pan, as an experiment, and tried to see what a little baking might do (I think we did it at about 350 for maybe 15 minutes). As we predicted, more crispiness! The risotto was moist enough that a quick bake didn’t dry it out at all, but the outside layers browned nicely.
And of course, a light provencal sauce made with fresh tomatoes and basil is the perfect cool accompaniment to the risotto. Consider it summertime comfort food and a novel twist on a classic for any risotto lover.
Zucchini risotto cakes with provencal sauce (serves 4)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cups uncooked Arborio or sushi rice
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 tsp salt
2-2 1/2 cups water or chicken broth, kept at a slow simmer on the stove
1 medium zucchini, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup minced onion
25 imported black olives, such as Kalamata, pitted
1/4 cup basil leaves, sliced thin
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup basil leaves, sliced thin
1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute them, stirring frequently, until they soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and rice, and saute, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine and salt, and cook and stir until the wine has almost evaporated. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering water. Keep adding the water, waiting for it to be absorbed (but continuing to stir often) before adding more, until all of the water is used. As you are adding the water, note when about 10 minutes have elapsed since you began adding it; at that time, stir in the grated zucchini. When the risotto is done (after about 18-20 minutes) the rice will be tender but still a little chewy, and the risotto creamy but not too wet. Take the risotto off the heat, and stir in the Parmesan cheese and pepper. Transfer the risotto to oa bowl, and chill it for at least 1/2 hour.
2. Make the compote: heat the tomatoes in a skillet over medium heat. Once they are hot, add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, for one minute. Then promptly take the pan off the heat. Stir in the olives, the basil, and the salt and pepper.
3. Make the risotto cakes: hear the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a heavy skillet over high heat. Form the risotto into four cakes about 1 1/2 inches thick. When the oil is very hot, place the cakes in the skillet. Turn the heat down a bit, and sear the cakes on one side for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they are golden brown on the undersides. Flip the cakes with a spatula, and sear them on the other side for 3 minutes.
4. Divide the tomato-olive compote among four plates. Place a risotto cake on each plate, then garnish with some additional Parmesan cheese and basil slivers.