Give Your Risotto A Rich Earthiness With Caramelized Zucchini

Rice is the most widely eaten staple on the planet, and every culture has a treasured recipe, from sticky rice to biryani. In true Italian fashion, risotto manages to transform rice into a creamy, decadent, pasta-like dish that welcomes a wide range of toppings.

While mushrooms, seafood, and green vegetables are common risotto mix-ins, caramelized zucchini is an easy and sophisticated topping to try. Zucchini is one of the mildest types of squash and also one of the most widely available. Its neutral flavor, easy preparation, and quick cooking have made it a versatile ingredient to use in stir-fries, pasta, and even sweet bread. However, caramelizing zucchini transforms it into a rich and flavorful ingredient with a robust earthiness and a sweet yet smoky finish.

In her saffron zucchini risotto recipe, Tasting Table recipe developer Tanika Douglas caramelizes thinly sliced rounds of zucchini by pan-frying them in olive oil for two minutes on each side. The result is a savory, earthy coin slightly bubbled with char, complementing the creamy texture of risotto with a soft, melt-in-your-mouth bite while also adding a layer of caramelized flavor to the savory, salty, and earthy notes delivered by the cream, parmesan, and cooking wine.

Caramelized zucchini tips and seasonings

While you can caramelize zucchini in the oven, using a deep frying pan for caramelization is especially helpful for caramelized zucchini risotto because you'll use the same pan to build and cook the risotto. The residual oil left from caramelizing the zucchini provides the same earthy, caramelized flavors to the onions, garlic, and arborio rice. The key to getting those charred bubbles is to place a single layer of zucchini coins in the frying pan, working in batches. If you overcrowd the zucchini, you'll get mushy textures and muddled flavors.

Furthermore, Douglas' recipe has you add half the zucchini to the rice when you add the cooking wine to further infuse the rice and cooking liquid with caramelized earthiness. The zucchini will become soft and easily disintegrate into the risotto. Once the cream and parmesan have been added, you can top it with the remaining zucchini for both a stunning presentation and a textural contrast.

You can use caramelized zucchini as the sole addition and flavoring agent in a classic risotto recipe or pair it with spices and other toppings to complement its flavor and texture. Caramelized zucchini would taste delicious with roasted or sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, sage, and thyme for a sweet umami complement and earthy herbal enhancement. For a summer squash risotto, you can caramelize zucchini and yellow squash coins. Douglas' recipe infuses the risotto with saffron for a sweet and floral complement to the rich savory profile zucchini risotto.