Right now, I am going through a slight obsession with fresh oregano. While it’s a member of the mint family, it tastes nothing like it. With a bit of bitter flavor and giving off a smell that’s somewhat like thyme and somewhat like sage, oregano is a staple in many Western pantries. When I think of oregano, I can’t help but think of some of my favorite cuisines–Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and the US’s Southwestern.
As I thought through today’s recipe, incorporating fresh oregano was a no brainer. When my husband and I sat down to dinner, we both looked at each other and said, “The oregano.” Because it really makes this dish. Well, that, and making a very creamy, flavorful risotto.
When it comes to risotto, there is no setting it and forgetting it. It needs to be stirred the entire time. When the rice grains rub against one another during the stirring, they release some of their starch. This creates the creamy consistency of risotto. It doesn’t come from cheese. It doesn’t come from milk. It comes from good old fashioned stirring! And wow, stuffing a zucchini with risotto couldn’t be easier, because it loves to stick together.
It also matters what type of rice you use for risotto. I used arborio rice, but you can also use baldo, carnaroli, maratelli, padano, roma, or vialone nano. Arborio rice is very easy to find, and is carried at most major grocers in the “pasta aisle”. If you use another type of rice, all the stirring in the world is highly unlikely to result in the creamy risotto effect. Choose wisely.
As a variation, stir in some cannellini beans with the herbs to add some additional protein. This is the perfect dish for the summer–when there are an abundance of fresh herbs, zucchini, and tomatoes. Mangia bene!
Italian Herb Risotto Stuffed Zucchini
1 celery stalk
1 small onion
4 garlic cloves
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cups broth (fake chicken or vegetable)
1 cup arborio rice (see note above)
¾ cup dry white wine
2 medium zucchini, halved and hollowed out
¼ cup fresh oregano
¼ cup flat leaf parsley
2 Tbsp fresh basil
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 large heirloom tomato, sliced
¼ cup vegan shredded cheese, optional
Salt, to taste
Italian seasoning, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
1. Add celery, onion, and garlic to a food processor and blend until very finely chopped. You can also chop it by hand until it is very, very fine. In a medium pot or dutch oven, add the contents of the food processor and olive oil over medium heat. Saute for 5 minutes. While you are sauteing the vegetables, add broth to a medium pot, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, turn off the burner.
2. Add the rice to the celery-onions-garlic mixture, and sauté for another 3 minutes–constantly stirring the rice. Add the wine, and continue stirring the rice over medium-low heat. When the wine reduces or evaporates, add 1 ladle of the broth to the rice. Constantly stir the rice until the broth reduces to ¼. After it reduces, add another ladle of the broth and constantly stir the rice until it reduces to ¼ again. Continue adding one ladle of broth at a time, stirring the rice constantly, and reducing the broth to ¼, until all your broth is gone. On the last ladel of broth, reduce the liquid as much as possible, so you don’t have soupy rice. If you stir the entire time and use arborio rice, you should have some very creamy risotto once you get through the process!
3. Preheat the oven to 425 F and grease a 9 x 11 pan. Add oregano, parsley and basil to a food processor or finely chop it. Stir the herbs and nutritional yeast into the risotto. Taste it, adjust seasonings (if needed). Spoon the risotto into the hollowed out zucchini. Top the stuffed zucchini with heirloom tomato slices, and then, sprinkle with salt, italian seasoning, and garlic powder. Top with a bit of vegan cheese, if using, and then, add stuffed zucchini to the pan.
4. Cover with foil, and bake for 20-25 minutes. If you prefer a little “crispy” on the outside, remove the foil after it’s cooked through, and put it back in the oven under the broiler on HIGH. Keep a close eye on it, and remove it when it’s the right level of “crisped” for your taste. Remove from the oven and serve.