When I first moved to the city, I landed in a pretty darn perfect situation. I spent my first six months here living with a friend in her gorgeous townhouse in Hunters Point, Long Island City. This place was equipped with the most amazing kitchen I have had the privilege of cooking in, and I put it to good use as I took advantage of all of the fresh, delicious foodstuffs the city has to offer.
As any of you who have moved to New York from elsewhere know, relocating here can take a big chunk out of your pocketbook, so my dinners then were often even simpler than they are now, and usually more veggie-centric. This zucchini and lemon risotto was a dish I made often, since my roommate and I always had a big bowl of lemons on hand, and a nice-sized zucchini would cost me a buck – if that – at the great little produce market just around the corner. Combined with fridge and pantry staples, it was a meal that was cheap, came together quickly, and was bursting with the bright, fresh flavors of summer.
Mike and I always have a big bowl of lemons on hand in our kitchen in Bushwick, and I still love to make zucchini and lemon risotto. The version I made last night was a little richer than the version from my Long Island City days thanks to a generous addition of soft, creamy Mettowee cheese from Consider Bardwell Farm, but the flavors took me right back to those first giddy months of living here, the newness of it all, and the excitement of the possibilities that lay ahead.
Zucchini and Lemon Risotto
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 white onion, diced
2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/2 cup white vermouth
Juice and zest of two lemons
2 cups diced zucchini
4-6 cups water
3 oz. soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled
Melt 1 tablespoon butter into olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook until the onion is softened. Add the rice and stir well to coat with the butter/olive oil mixture. Cook until the rice starts to become translucent, then add vermouth and stir. Continue cooking until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add lemon juice and zest along with one cup of water and again allow to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed, stirring occasionally.
Add the zucchini and season with salt. Continue adding the remaining water a cup or so at a time, allowing the liquid to cook into the risotto as described above. You may need more or less liquid than I have listed above, but what you want is for the risotto to be creamy and the texture of the grains of rice to be al dente. Taste often as the rice cooks so you can monitor the texture of the rice, and also adjust for salt.
Once the risotto is al dente, turn off the heat and gently stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and the goat cheese until the risotto is creamy and the cheese is well-incorporated. Serve in shallow bowls with additional lemon zest on top.