Ris-Oat-O with Fresh Corn & Zucchini

We’re in a fall transitional time, when savory spoonfuls of something warm might appeal, but bright summer produce is still abound. I was going to make some oatmeal for breakfast, but this happened instead. Luckily, by the time these oat groats had softened, it was lunchtime, too.

There’s a stigma attached with risotto that it takes a long time and much labor to make. That’s a fair assumption when making risotto with short-grain rice, such as arborio. (Although I’d argue it’s well worth the twenty minutes of occasional stirring, as I’ve made many versions of this, one of my favorite dishes, here.) But when choosing whole-grain oats to swap in for the classic rice, it’s an understatement. So what is the advantage of using oats, you might be wondering by now? They have a wonderfully nutty texture, have whole-grain vitamins, like fiber, and they help lower bad cholesterol, like most oats. Whole oats with the bran still intact are very low on the glycemic index, meaning it’ll digest slower and give you energy more steadily.

oat groats

So consider the extra time you spend to cook them handsomely paid off. I came across these oat groats, or unhulled, whole oat grains, at Cayuga Organics’ stand at the Greenmarket. They didn’t have rolled oats, which I was looking for (for those oatmeal mornings), but the representative offered a bag of these instead. The grayish-brown, sharp, small pins were unlike any “oats” I had ever seen, but then, this was the pure, unadulterated version of the actual thing. “So it’s like steel-cut oats,” I began… except, they hadn’t been cut by steel. You can even sprout them if you wanted, the representative explained. They’re a living food. This was a selling point that went a little above my head, but I may have to try this out soon. I just discovered a little video that may help me out with this task, too.

fresh, skinny zucchini

corn sliced off the cob

So I went home and stood over a pot of these oats and cooked them into porridge-like risotto. When the oat groats were added to the pan after sweating the onions, I gave them a few minutes to lightly toast. A really fun thing happened then — many of them began to crack open, audibly so. It sounded like popcorn, only these grains didn’t expand with a puff of white.

This dish had some good help with the produce still in season. I had a few ears of sweet corn on the cob left to use, I’m afraid the last for this early fall. Ripe, small and firm green zucchini were sliced to stir in toward the end along with it, too. Light but satisfying, it’s the kind of meal you’ll feel full from after one bowl.

I’ve often told people that there were four hallmarks I try to keep in mind with each recipe on this blog: cost-efficiency, healthfulness, practicality and environmental friendliness. Sometimes, you can’t hit all nails on the head at once, and this one dropped the ball a bit on practicality since it takes so darn long to make. You have been warned!

Oat Groat “Risotto” with Fresh Corn and Zucchini
(makes 2-3 servings)

3/4 cup oat groats
4-6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 onion, chopped
1 ear of corn, kernels cut off
1-2 zucchinis, sliced thinly
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated parmiggiano-reggiano

Heat a heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven with the oil and cook the onions until softened over medium, about 8 minutes. Add the oat groats and stir to gently toast, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, warm the stock in a separate saucepan and add a ladle of stock to the oats. Let it absorb almost completely and add another ladle. Continue adding stock, stirring occasionally, until oat groats are tender, about 40 minutes. Add plenty of salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the corn and zucchini and cook, stirring, for 2-3 more minutes. Drizzle with extra olive oil and add optional butter or cream if desired. Sprinkle in the grated cheese, stir, and serve.

Cost Calculator
(for 2-3 servings)

3/4 cup oat groats (at $3/pint-sized bag): $1.25
2 small zucchini (at $1.80/lb): $1.00
1 ear fresh corn: $0.50
1 onion: $0.30
4-6 cups homemade vegetable stock: $2.50
1/2 cup grated parmiggiano-reggiano: $2.00
salt, pepper, olive oil: $0.25

Total: $7.80

Health Factor

Three brownie points: Most risottos are rich, oily and fattened with so much butter you don’t even want to know. This is taking a liberty with the tradition of the dish for its much less creamy texture, created in large part because oat groats aren’t nearly as starchy as short-grain rices are. It takes another liberty because I didn’t really try very hard to make up for this by adding much extra fats or cream. In any case, the oat groats are a great source of fiber, iron and selenium, and is known for reducing “bad” fats in your body, good for your heart. Fresh, gently cooked zucchini is a great veggie to get your potassium fix, Vitamin C and Vitamin A, and fresh corn adds a pop of texture, sweetness and B-vitamins, too.

Green Factor

Nine maple leaves: I can’t think of too many things that went into the dish that weren’t grown locally and sold at the Greenmarket: olive oil, salt and pepper. Otherwise, this seasonal and nutritious dish was sourced from friendly, familiar farms. I grabbed lots of carrots, onions and celery on this market run to make all the veggie stock with here, too — celery’s just now in season so it’s a good time to.

4 Responses

  1. Art

    I’ve used whole oats instead of brown rice for years, sometimes i combine the two. Confuses my dinner guests as i don’t usually tell them
    I also use a pressure cooker to cook the oats, way faster, and uses less energy

  2. Ben F.

    This recipe looks great. I am a big fan of oatmeal around this time of year. The thought of substituting oats for risotto is very interesting and I really want to try it. And like you I feel like the 20 minutes or so spent periodically stirring is well worth it when the final result appears.

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  3. Donna

    I have used oat grouts for years.
    I use a small rice cooker – about $13-15.
    You can walk away and it shuts itself off when ready. Actually, it switches to a “warm” cycle.
    Nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan either.
    It makes the task really easy. And, clean-up is even easier. Just put the liner in the dishwasher.
    If you want the grouts/rice softer, just add more liquid and turn it back on. It will shut itself off again when the liquid is absorbed.
    I hope this makes the task easier for you in the future.
    P.S. – It is a great way to eat oats for those of us that have to be gluten-free and cannot risk cross contamination with processing equipment.

  4. Andrea

    Hi! My fiancee works for Cayuga Pure Organics. I love your blog and was just searching for zucchini recipes and come upon this post. As it happens, CPO will likely soon have rolled oats! State funding pending, they will launch an oat rolling facility in the near future. The only one of it’s kind on the Northeast! They just threw a bangin fundraiser last night. Check out Cayuga Pure Organics on facebook. Happy eating

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