A brief history of non-risotto “risottos”: At one point, everyone was making risotto with barley instead of short-grain (commonly Arborio) rice. This was undermining the term orzotto, a similar Italian dish made with barley. Then we began to see “risotto” being made with all kinds of other “whole grains for health,” appreciating the nuances of nutty flavor and bite from the likes of spelt, oats, quinoa, wheatberries and more—and I was not one to miss out on the fun. So then it seemed absol-otto awesome when I saw people doing stuff like pumpkin seed “risotto,” or when a friend cavalierly referred to his slow-cooked, wine-simmered sweet corn mixture that he plated underneath a grilled fish last weekend as “corn risotto.”
Except risotto has one pesky thing about it: the word—and the dish, presumably—has “rice” in it.
Conversely, I could call this softened fine dice of summer squash cooked with onions, wine and bacon a vegetable “confit” but that would be a bastardized term another. Confit means to preserve, usually in fat, but we see the word appropriated to gently cooked vegetables a lot now, too. Dunno anything about that.
So I’m going to go with summer squash risotto, because even though it does not have rice in it, the preparation is easily recognized: you soften some onions, maybe a bit of pork scraps, add the main substance and deglaze with wine and stock until it reaches a creamy consistency, but that substance still retains some of its bite. That substance in this case is summer squash.
And it’s darn good—gentle yet tasty enough to serve as a course on its own, or to back up a protein entree.
Let’s not get too mighty here. Squash “risotto” happens to be pretty much carb-free (unlike risotto) and gluten-free (like risotto), so it’s a great fix for dieters or simply those with too many summer squashes on their hands in the summer, as I did after receiving a third offering from my CSA. This summer squash “risotto,” or whatever you want to call it, is good enough in its own right that I’d seek out making it another day. And that’s saying a lot coming from some weirdo food-repurposer like me.
Sure, there’s something counter-intuitive about cooking small cubes of summer squash not till crisp and browned on their sides, but almost soggy all around. Almost is key. You don’t want to have a congealed mush like babaghanoush, but to let the squash soften slowly, still as separate pieces.
There’s a deep accent of smoky bacon and distinctive sweetness of white wine to heighten the squash’s ho-hum natural flavor, and the slippery texture of small gems of shallot. You can stir in an extra pat of butter and grated parmiggiano-reggiano to create a milken sauce, and top it with chopped parsley and more of of those cheese shavings just like you would a risotto.
I’m not anyone’s Italian grandmother here. So take my words with a grain of salt (don’t forget to use those, too). Getting a little feisty with a traditional dish and messing up our food vocabulary in doing so will make you feel younger and smile bigger, so please do.
Summer Squash “Risotto” with Bacon and Shallot
(makes 2-3 large servings)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, finely chopped (or ¼ cup chopped onion)
2 strips thick bacon, finely chopped (yielding about 2 tablespoons chopped)
3 lbs summer squash, ends trimmed and finely diced
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
1-2 tablespoons grated parmiggiano-reggiano (optional)
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Heat the olive oil on a saucepan and add the shallot or onion along with a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the bacon and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the bacon is slightly crisp (increasing heat slightly), about 4 minutes.
Increase heat to medium-high and add the summer squash; stir to incorporate thoroughly. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally until the wine is nearly evaporated, and add the stock. Stir occasionally very gently with a soft spatula so as not to smush the squash pieces. Let cook 4-5 minutes or until the squash pieces are almost all translucent rather than opaque. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in the optional butter and 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese. Serve in dishes and top with the remaining cheese and optional parsley for garnish.
(for 2-3 servings)
2 summer squashes (from my CSA): $3.00
1 shallot: $0.30
2 strips bacon (from Flying Pigs Farm): $2.00
2 tablespoons olive oil: $0.25
½ cup white wine: $0.75
½ cup stock: $0.25
2 tablespoons parmiggiano-reggiano: $0.75
1 tablespoon chopped parsley: $0.25
Four brownie points: Antioxidants, potassium, protein—no matter what shape they are, summer squashes are a well-rounded plant nutritionally. They’re pretty low in calories and have a whole swath of healthy vitamins and minerals. You can’t eat too much of them. And with this recipe, the squash really shrink down so you can easily mop up two squashes in one sitting.
Seven maple leaves: This is the “lemonade” for when life gives you too many summer squashes. Life, as in the seasonal harvest in the middle of summer, which we are enjoying now. Using spare bits of bacon to help flavor them is a great way to use just minimal animal protein in a predominantly vegetable-focused dish. Even better when it’s from a nice local farm.