Creamy Zucchini Risotto is super flavorful and easy to make. This easy entrée or side is loaded with fresh vegetables and beautiful flavor.
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Hey Internet, I’ve got yet another risotto for you and this one is perfect for summer (as well as spring, or any time you get your hands on a bunch of zucchini). This light dish is rich in flavor but loaded with healthy veggies.
Yes, okay, at this point I’m kind of obsessed with risotto. I now have 5 risotto recipes (including this one), like vegan mushroom risotto, garlic risotto, asparagus risotto, and vegan pumpkin risotto.
But risotto is amazing. It’s creamy, it’s cozy, it’s customizable as to how you flavor it and what vegetables you include, and it’s fairly impressive as a main or a side dish. I’ll share my favorite mains to serve this with a bit later in the article.
This zucchini risotto (or courgette risotto as it’s known across the pond!) is a great way to sneak in extra veggies. Not only does this recipe have three medium sized zucchini but it also has a large shallot, some garlic, and two cups of baby spinach!
Despite the amount of veggies in this vegan zucchini risotto, it doesn’t actually taste like there are any. Zucchini is a very mild-tasting vegetable. And any weirdness with the texture of zucchini (just me?) is mitigated by the delicious arborio rice.
Arborio rice is a round edged rice perfect for risotto. Vialone Nano or Carnaroli are also fantastic choices (actually they’re better than arborio rice in my opinion), but they can be harder to find. If you ever happen upon the latter options, pick them up—you won’t regret it.
You might have heard that risotto is labor intensive, or even that it’s difficult to make. I don’t believe either of those.
Risotto is just rice (a specific type of rice, i.e. arborio, Vialone Nano, or Carnaroli) that’s cooked in a wider pot with small splashes of hot broth or water added slowly as it cooks. The trick to good risotto is waiting until one ladleful (around a half cup or ⅔ cup) of liquid has been absorbed before adding another.
The process can take a bit longer than some types of rice (such as steaming white rice), but not much longer and the result is worth it. Creamy, cozy, and almost like stew, good risotto is a real treat. Definitely something to add to your rotation.
Why This Recipe Works
Well, first I have to talk about why risotto is so amazing.
What is risotto? It is an Italian rice dish that uses a special kind of rice called arborio rice (or Vialone Nano or Carnaroli). Instead of being boiled or steamed, this rice is cooked in broth until it is creamy, usually with a few other ingredients like shallots or onion, garlic, and sometimes other vegetables, such as zucchini in our case.
I’ve read that the secret to risotto is salted water. I’ve tried this, and I personally prefer vegetable broth. But you’re welcome to use whichever you like.
For some people risotto may be a bit of a learning curve. But in my experience, if you follow the recipe exactly as written, you will do great.
Don’t skip heating the broth in a different pot, otherwise the risotto will take forever to cook (because by adding room temperature broth, you’re constantly lowering the heat of the rice).
And when you’ve made risotto successfully a time or two, you can start customizing the recipe as you become more comfortable with it.
Also, I do recommend following this zucchini risotto recipe as written because I wrote it to be super delicious and I also am not responsible for the recipe not working if you don’t follow it, hah! (You wouldn’t believe the number of people who tell me things didn’t work but they also changed out all the ingredients and the cooking method…)
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Ingredients and Substitutions
- 1 large shallot: Half of a yellow or sweet onion will work in its place, but I love the flavor of a finely diced shallot in this risotto.
- 3 cloves of garlic: If you can’t mince garlic you can use jarreI don’t recommend jarred garlic as it has a very different flavor than fresh minced garlic.
- 3 medium zucchini (about 8 cups grated, or less is fine): You can definitely use less zucchini if you prefer. This is a fairly zucchini heavy dish but it’s not overly so. The rice is still the primary texture and flavor. But if you prefer less zucchini, use less. You may need slightly less broth overall. Yellow summer squash will also work.
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme: Fresh thyme leaves are also fine (use about 1 ½ tablespoons, do not include the stem).
- ¼ teaspoon dried ground rosemary: I only recommend using ground rosemary in this recipe because the large pieces are sometimes woody. If you do not have access to ground rosemary and you can’t grind it in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, omit this spice. You can use 1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasoning in lieu of both the rosemary and thyme if you prefer.
- 1 cup Arborio rice (or use Vialone Nano or Carnaroli): Other types of rice will not work, so you must use arborio rice, vialone nano, or carnaroli to get a delicious creamy zucchini risotto. Otherwise you will just have vegan zucchini rice, and not creamy risotto.
- 4-5 cups low sodium vegetable broth or salted water: I’ve read that salted water is best for risotto. I’ve tried it once and I preferred the broth but of course you’re welcome to experiment.
- 1 cup finely chopped baby spinach (about 2 cups before chopping): This is to add extra veggies and more green color. You can omit it without ruining the recipe.
- ⅓ cup vegan parmesan cheese (grated), optional: This is totally optional but it adds a nice flavor and richness to your zucchini risotto. I love the Violife Vegan Parmesan block. Feel free to skip it, or stir in a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast if you prefer.
- 1 tablespoon white or yellow miso paste mixed with two tablespoons water OR salt to taste: I love the salty umami flavor miso paste adds to this recipe. You can use chickpea miso if you can’t eat soy. Or skip it and just salt to taste. Even if you add miso paste, I can’t account for different palates. Salt your food more to your own tastes.
- Juice and zest of 1 small to medium sized lemon: I love the tart fresh taste lemon juice adds at the end of the cooking process. You can omit it if you'd like but it really brightens the flavor. If you’re nervous, add a little at a time and taste it.
- Salt and pepper to taste, if needed
How to Make Zucchini Risotto
- NOTE: For risotto, I recommend using a wide heavy bottomed pot to ensure your zucchini risotto cooks evenly. I like to cook with my All Clad Nonstick pot but any good quality pot you feel comfortable with will work. If cooking oil-free, it is imperative to use a nonstick pot.
- This recipe does not use any oil or vegan butter to cook with. If you have a stainless steel pot or if you just prefer to cook with oil or vegan butter, please add that to the pan before adding anything else.
- Heat your risotto pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. If cooking without oil, add a splash of broth or water if the shallots begin to stick. Use your cooking utensil to spread the liquid around a little so nothing sticks.
- Now add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds more.
- Add the grated zucchini and herbs. Sauté for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally (about once a minute).
- In a different pot (medium sized and deep is good), heat the broth over medium low heat. I recommend keeping it covered to keep it from evaporating too much. Let simmer covered while you cook the zucchini risotto. If you don’t want to deal with two pans, you can place the broth in a large microwave safe cup and heat it every time you need to add the broth to the pan, but I think this method is actually more work.
- Use your cooking utensil to move the zucchini to the side of the pan. Add the rice to the empty space and let it toast for 2 minutes, stirring very frequently but keeping the rice separate from the zucchini (as much as you can, don’t worry if it’s not perfect). Then stir the whole pot bringing the rice and zucchini together.
- Add ⅓ - ½ cup of the broth (about a ladleful) just 1 ladleful at a time, then let that broth absorb, and add another ladleful. Repeat this process for about 20-25 minutes until the rice is softer, but still somewhat al dente—or a little chewy (in a pleasant way. If it is unpleasant, cook a bit longer). Babysitting the pot is key to a super creamy and delicious vegan zucchini risotto.
- When the rice is fully cooked to your liking, stir in the spinach until wilted (about 1 minute).
- Turn off the heat and add the grated vegan parmesan cheese (if using), the thinned miso paste (it’s important to mix the miso with water to make sure it dissolves into the risotto evenly), and the lemon zest and juice. Taste it. Does it need salt and pepper? Add some and taste again. I can’t account for palate differences. Even my husband and I have different levels of salt tolerance.
- Serve and enjoy! You can sprinkle on a little vegan parmesan cheese (we love Violife vegan parmesan block) if you’d like, but I kind of love the super delicious flavors of this creamy vegan zucchini risotto.
- Refrigerate leftovers up to 3-5 days in an airtight container or freeze for up to 3 months in a freezer safe container. I think rice freezes well—I like to add a tablespoon or two of broth or water (or vegan butter) to my rice when reheating.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Risotto is rice that is cooked slowly using small amounts of hot broth added while the rice cooks. Each addition of broth is absorbed before adding more. This results in a creamy and hearty dish, and is one of the most popular methods of cooking rice in Italy.
The main ingredient in risotto is rice. Other common ingredients include broth or salted water, aromatics like shallots (or sometimes onion) and garlic, and often vegetables like mushrooms (mushroom risotto) or butternut squash.
Either cook the risotto using vegan butter, or olive oil. You can also cook without either of these and just add broth or water if your shallots and garlic begin to stick (I recommend using a good nonstick pot). Many recipes call for parmesan cheese as well, so you can use vegan parmesan cheese (we love the Violife Parmesan Cheese Block). If you can’t find vegan parmesan or prefer something less processed, try my homemade vegan parmesan topping or you can simply use nutritional yeast.
There are a few! For one, don’t rinse your rice beforehand. We need the starch to make the risotto cohesive, so don’t wash it all away. Two, risotto is all about the texture, which is created by cooking the rice over a lower heat and only adding broth a little at a time. Don’t rush it—that’s the secret!
Risotto can be a side dish or the main attraction. If making this as a side, serve it with my vegan steak, seitan chicken, tofu schnitzel, vegan turkey, or tofu salmon. If making this risotto as a main dish, serve it with my Italian salad, or a veggie like broccolini, asparagus, or brussels sprouts.
Risotto is best on the first night… however you can reheat it after a couple days in the fridge. I like to reheat on the stove in a small pot with a little extra broth and vegan butter. Some people will think I’m nuts for this, but I’ve frozen risotto and heated the defrosted rice with a little broth and vegan butter and it’s fine. Nowhere near as good as the first night, but certainly better than letting it go to waste. If you won’t be able to eat it all, you also have the option of making half the recipe. It may cook faster in this case (yay!) so just keep an eye on it.
Pro Tips for Success
- The shallot can be swapped with a half of a small yellow or sweet onion—or you can skip it but it does add a lot of flavor.
- I don’t recommend jarred garlic as it has a very different flavor than fresh minced garlic. Get a good garlic press or try grating your garlic cloves with a microplane (otherwise known as a zester).
- Don’t want to use so much zucchini? Use less. The recipe won’t be affected much; you may just need to add slightly less broth.
- Yellow squash will also work. Tender summer squash is perfect for this recipe.
- Don’t stir the rice constantly. This adds too much air into the rice and cools it down, which may make it gluey. But don’t forget to stir either, we don’t want the rice to stick—and agitation from stirring helps create that beautiful smooth texture. I like to stir frequently, but not constantly. That’s why I recommend a good nonstick pot. My favorite is All Clad Nonstick Series pots.
- Also, use a wide pot, not a narrow one. The more surface area your rice has to spread out, the more evenly it will cook.
- Did your rice turn out crunchy or hard? You didn’t add enough liquid. I have never needed more than 4 or 5 cups of broth for this amount of rice, but if your rice is older, your stove is hotter, or your broth evaporated a bit, you may need a splash more. Once the rice looks plump, start tasting every so often and seeing if you need to make an adjustment. Risotto is a learning process.
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