When Chef Gerald and his Mummy decided about two months ago to start a balcony garden, little did they know that their project would involve encountering various life forms that were never supposed to be part of our social circle.
It all started innocently enough with a few planters of herbs for Mummy and a few strawberry and chilli plants for Chef Gerald. Everybody assured us that they would be very easy to grow, so we embarked on this new initiative full of hope and confidence. Then, the new planter arrived – and it turned out to be a lot bigger than we thought. This, of course, meant that we suddenly had more room to plant things, so Mummy got a little carried away at the nursery and we ended up with several plants that weren’t part of the initial plan. And this is when the first problems started to arise.
First, there were the aphids. Lots and lots of small, round, plump critters, avidly feeding on the young and tender zucchini plants. Aphids are very easy to control, cheerfully announced our most trusted organic gardening website. Just give the affected plants a vigorous drench with your hose. Let the aphids fall to the ground, where the worms and the wild birds will get a nice meal out of them, before they get a chance to recolonize your plant. A garden hose? Wild birds? Worms? It all sounded fascinating, but the only problem was that no such things exist on our balcony. Squirting them individually with a spray bottle was much more fun though…..
Then came the mildew. You’re watering at the wrong time of the day, proclaimed the garden gurus. All of a sudden, knowing precisely what time the sun rises and sets each day took on a whole new meaning for us and watching the weather forecast became an important part of our evening routine.
Then came a short spell of hot summer weather. Around the same time, delicate cobwebs started dangling from the edges of the zucchini leaves, punctuated by tiny red dots. Red spider mites thrive in hot and dry conditions, read the verdict this time around…..
Having gained a whole new level of respect and appreciation for all those farmers who actually manage to grow beautiful organic produce, Mummy felt a huge sense of accomplishment when she managed to harvest our first two golden zucchini the other night. They weren’t exactly pretty (one had a rather log and narrow body and a disproportionately round head, while the other one had a rather huge pot belly) but, knowing how many pests and bugs they had to outwit to get to this stage, it was still amazing that they even managed to reach this stage.
Today’s recipe is a very basic risotto, aimed at making the most of the fresh zucchini flavour.
Zucchini and Lemon Risotto
2 cups arborio rice
3 – 5 cups good quality (preferably organic) vegetable or chicken stock (use the smaller quantity of stock if cooking this in a pressure cooker. For the standard cooking method, the final quantity of stock will vary depending on the type of rice used, just make sure you have enough hot stock handy during the cooking process)
4 medium sized zucchini (we used a mixture of gold and green zucchini), finely diced
2 leeks, white and pale green part only, washed, thinly sliced
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
zest and juice of one lemon
2 tbsp fresh dill and parsley, finely chopped
50 g Parmesan, finely grated
Pour the stock in a sauce pan and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and keep simmering until required.
Pressure cooker method
Heat the oil in the pressure cooker on medium heat, then add the leek and cook, stirring, for about 8-10 minutes, until soft and golden.
Rinse the rice under cold water, drain well, then add to the leek and stir vigorously for about one minute or so, ensuring that the rice is coated in oil. Add about 1/2 cup of hot stock to the mixture and stir well to deglaze the pressure cooker.
Add the remainder of the hot stock, lock the lid in place, bring to pressure, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 6 minutes. Remove from heat, then let it rest for about 10 minutes before depressurising and unlocking the lid.
If using the standard cooking method, cook the leek as described above, add the rice and cook for 1 minute, then start incorporating 1/2 cup of hot stock at a time, waiting until most of the liquid has been absorbed before the next addition. Stir frequently and cook until the rice is soft but not mushy. This should take approximately 25-30 minutes.
For either cooking method – return the cooked rice to very low heat, add all remaining ingredients (reserve some of the Parmesan to sprinkle at the table) and stir well to incorporate everything. Remove from heat, cover and let it rest for another 5-10 minutes so the zucchini are just slightly softened by the heat. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serves 4.