Risotto with zucchini and stuffed blossoms
A good risotto is always delicious, in every season. This recipe, with courgettes, becomes an excellent complete dish by adding courgette flowers stuffed simply with ricotta. Serve it with a nice salad to complete for a great Sunday lunch.
Francesca D'Orazio
For the rise
300 g of Italian rice as Carnaroli, Arborio, Vialone Nano 
1 small leek
350 g fresh zucchini 
4 dried tomatoes
30 g of shelled and peeled pistachios
90 g of Grana Padano Riserva
70 ml of white wine
Extra virgin olive oil
60 g of butter
2 tablespoons of basil chiffonade
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
extra virgin olive oil

For zucchini blossom
8 zucchini blossom, pistils removed
200 g of ricotta cheese
2 Tbsp of grated Grana Padano dop
1 egg yolk
30 g of butter
Stuffed zucchini blossoms
Mix ricotta cheese with the Grana Padano cheese, the yolk, a pinch of salt. 
Fill the flowers with the mixture obtained. It would be helpful using a pastry bag.
Heat 1/2 glass of water (or broth used for risotto) in a pan, add butter. When hot, add the stuffed blossoms, cover with the lid and cook for about 4 minutes, making sure that the flowers are moisten. If not, pour some of the broth around the edges of the pan while still cooking.

For the rice
Clean the leek (keeping the bottom white part aside) and the courgettes.
With the scrapes of vegetables and dried tomatoes, prepare a light vegetable broth: put them all together in a pot and cover with 2 L of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Salt (slightly) halfway through cooking.
Prepare the zucchini sauce: slice thinly the zucchini and cook them in a pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt to season. Once cooked, blend them with 60 ml of broth, pistachios, 30 g of Grana Padano, basil (about 20 leaves), and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Keep warm.
Prepare aromatic butter: put in a small bowl, whisk it with the basil and lemon zest, transfer on a cling foil and roll it like a salami, wrap it and keep it in the freezer.
In a saucepan, cook the leek over low heat with 1 tablespoon of oil (alternatively cook it in the microwave: put in a glass jar with the oil, cover with microwave cling film, and cook for 1 and 1/2 minutes at 750W).
In a casserole put the rice together with 1 tablespoon of oil, add toast it, add cooked leek, salt lightly. When the rice is warm enough to the touch, pour the wine and let evaporate the alcoholic part. Cook risotto, adding hot broth, a ladle at a time, and stirring occasionally.
When almost cooked, add the zucchini sauce, cook for the last 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir, adding the aromatic butter, cut into pieces, and the grated Grana Padano cheese.
Leave to rest for a minute and transfer to the serving dish, complete with the stuffed blossoms.
How to make a good risotto
  • Choose arborio, baldo, carnaroli, vialone nano or roma varieties of rice. These  are the best Italian varieties, able to absorb the stock well, and to obtain a creamy risotto with velvety texture.
  • Always prefer a high casserole if cooking with plenty of stock; low and wide casserole, if the risotto is cooked with little liquid. Copper, cast iron, aluminum work very well. Non-stick cookware is not recommended.
  • Toast the rice (with or without fat, as per recipe): it takes only 2 minutes. When the rice is warm to the touch, start adding broth (or wine, if requested). This step is very important, the rice receive the liquid without immediately releasing its starch. Be careful, and avoid browning.
  • The base: called soffritto in Italian, is the aromatic base of your risotto. Generally made with onion (leek, shallot can replace it), or celery-carrot-onion in case you are preparing a risotto with many vegetables. It is always important to cook the soffritto well, for at least 10 minutes, so that all its aromatic notes will be released in the oil (or butter, better if clarified, like the ghee), but taking care not to brown it!
  • Deglaze with wine: it gives “acidity" and opens all the flavors of the risotto. Pour the wine on the edges of the pot, and leave to evaporate quickly, so that later you won’t taste any alcoholic notes that would cover the other flavors.
  • The broth: it gives flavor and character to the risotto. For risotto with vegetables, a vegetable broth is preferred. Fish broth is the right choice for seafood risotto; choose meat broth for a flavorful risotto or saffron risotto. It’s a good move to use ingredients that recall the ones in your risotto: if making a risotto with asparagus, add a few pieces of spears or the scrapes to emphasize the taste of the broth.
  • Mantecare. There is no translation for this Italian word. Mantecare is essential for making risotto: you add fresh butter and grated Grana Padano cheese to the risotto when it is almost finished, stirring vigorously so that it develops that desired creaminess. Remove the casserole from heat and add very cold butter (or extra virgin olive oil) and Grana Padano PDO, mixing everything with a wooden spoon.  At the end of creaming, leave the risotto to rest, covered, for 1-2 minutes before serving.
  • Be careful: adding too much stock or leaving the pan on the heat for too long will overcook the risotto. Rice grains should be fat and tender on the outside but have a little bite in the centre.
Tips for the table
During spring time the days are getting so long and full of light so that there is a great desire for light tones and soft flowers on the table, like pale green, and pink. A friend of mine gave me some beautiful lotus flowers, and determined the colors choice of this table.

A right combination of colors is always very important. Playing on soft tones allows us to have a very relaxing table, able to make our guests comfortable and give them a "caress". After all, we must always keep in mind what the French gastronomy Brillant Savarin wrote on his books: entertaining at home means taking care of their happiness!

I have set the table with practical placemats on the bare table. Those used are easy to make, even for those with little sewing experience: they are made with recycled fabric, pieces of washed velvet were sewed to fit a round cardboard tray (the ones used for cakes work very well), keeping 5 cm for the edge, finished with elastic, so that it can be easily removed for washing.

On the left side I chose to put a same tone saucer that generally we use for bread, but in this case, instead of bread, I wanted to use for some Grana Padano morsels. It’s a good way to start our meal and in this case accompany our risotto very well. It’ s something enjoyable during the time we spend at the table! 

Finally, a note of color are the cocktail napkins, in fuchsia linen, found in a vintage market, with tombolo lace applications.