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Pesto zucchini brown rice risotto

As summer reaches the middle mark — the height of the growing season — the gardening to-do list grows long. The tomatoes need constant staking and pruning (not so much picking yet, but we’re getting there. Pure torture, I tell you, all the waiting). The relentless army of cucumber and flea beetles need battling (a losing war, so far — the leaves of my cucumber vines and eggplants are filigreed finer than my grandmother’s lace wedding veil). Fall crops must be sowed; summer favorites like carrots, dill, and cilantro, succession-seeded. Compost piles to turn and supplement. Weeds, weeds, and more weeds.

And the basil must be pruned.

Basil is an amazing herb. Easy to start from seed, it grows uncomplaining through high heat, miserable drought, and tree-leveling storms. And for that matter, prolonged chill, drenching rains, and overcast skies. Most years, it lasts right up to the first hard frost.

Around the end of July, early August, basil begins flowering aggressively, sending up pointy spikes of seed-bearing shoots seemingly overnight.

Cutting back the basil stalks about halfway, just above a leaf node, accomplishes two wonderful things: it saves the fingers from plucking off all of those flower shoots (necessary for continued green growth on the plant), and this heavy pruning encourages the basil plant to produce new, branching growth, coming back stronger than ever for the remainder of the summer and well into autumn.

And you know what an armful of freshly cut basil stalks with dozens and dozens of beautiful, fragrant leaves means?


Yessirree, it’s pesto time at Casa SoupAddict. Pesto goes so well with many dishes … including risotto. Traditional, no. Delicious? Absolutely.

This dish is also a great place to sneak in a good helping of zucchini. Grated and lightly sauteed, it blends in beautifully.

I often get questions about brown rice in risotto. You can absolutely use brown rice — it’s a healthier grain than white arborio — do note that brown rice takes twice as long to cook. I’m a big fan of brown rice, but I don’t often use it in risotto, simply because it means standing at the stove for an hour.

However, since the night’s dinner included a simple entree of baked salmon, pulling up a bar stool and pondering life’s surprising (and recently wonderful) twists and turns over a pan of simmering rice was an A-okay use of a Sunday evening.

If you can find it, use short grain brown rice. It will produce the same creamy texture as arborio, but with brown rice’s lovely, more substantial flavor. Whole Foods will carry it, as do some grocery stores that have bulk grain bins in the natural foods section (my nearby Kroger does).

Stay cool!

Karen xo

Pesto zucchini brown rice risotto

Pesto is such a natural flavor pairing with risotto, it’s a wonder I haven’t posted about this before. I call for a 1/4 cup of pesto here, but use your own judgment, based on the strength of the pesto you’re using (homemade will be far more flavorful than jarred). Two tablespoons might be plenty, or a 1/2 cup might hit the mark better.

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra extra as needed
1 small zucchini, grated
1 small shallot, minced
1 cup short grain brown rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, plus a splash extra
5-6 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup prepared basil pesto
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Heat the vegetable stock in a medium sauce pan over medium until it simmers. Lower heat and keep warm.

In a large sauté pan or deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering. Add zucchini, a splash of the white wine, and a big pinch of salt. Sauté for 5-6 minutes, until the zucchini soft and aromatic. Remove zucchini from the skillet to a plate, and set aside.

Pour in a bit of additional oil, if necessary – the bottom of the pan should have a very shallow coating of oil. Add the shallots to the pan and sauté for several minutes until soft. Add the rice and stir well to mix and coat with oil. Pour in the white wine and cook until most of it has evaporated.

Ladle 1/2 cup stock into the rice along. Stir the rice frequently until the stock has been absorbed. Add another half cup, and repeat, allowing the stock to be absorbed, stirring frequently, before adding the next half cup. (Note, the standard ladle holds 1/2 cup of liquid.) Keep the heat steady – the stock should come to a simmer in the rice.

The rice will be ready when it’s plump and ad dente – this will take about 50 to 60 minutes. During the last half hour, the rice will absorb the stock at a much faster rate, requiring more frequent stirring and more frequent stock additions. You might not use all of the stock, or you might need more (use hot water as a quick substitute), depending on the heat of the pan.

Stir in the pesto and Parmesan cheese and mix well. Finally, add in the zucchini. Taste and season with salt, if necessary. Serve hot.

Prep Time: 10 minutes       Cook time: 60 minutes       Yield: 4-6 servings
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Monday 30th of July 2012

Wow, this post is very comprehensive. Not only you have shared the recipe, but you also explained a lot on how to use brown rice in this dish. Thanks!

Heidi @ Food Doodles

Friday 27th of July 2012

This looks fantastic! I can't get enough of homemade pesto right now and I love that you used brown rice - I'm so excited to try that out :)


Saturday 28th of July 2012

Brown rice is so good in risotto. I love the flavor!

Rocky Mountain Woman

Friday 27th of July 2012

I make tons of pesto this time of year and freeze it, so I am always looking for a new way to use it. This looks amazing...


Saturday 28th of July 2012

Me, too! It's one of my very favorite things to preserve. :)


Friday 27th of July 2012

my mother, who was a keen gardener and loved to grow her herbs for cooking, used to tell that basil is sweeter until it blooms. After that you can still use it, of course, but it tends to be slightly bitter and with a more pronounced taste. You may wish to compare the pesto made with leaves before and after the blooming.

(inspired by a recipe read who-remembers-where, I have taken to grate zucchini, salt them, wring them almost dry and use them straight ahead without further cooking - in dishes that require cooking on their own, such as savoury muffins, frittate, baked custards and flans, you name them. I love it because they retain a bit of crunch but with none of the bitter taste they sometimes may have. Maybe this wonderful risotto could be a good place for them too :) )


Saturday 28th of July 2012

Basil is amazing for a number of reasons. Yes, definitely, the young leaves will be the most sweet and tender. Mature leaves on a branch that has gone to seed will have a slightly less sweet flavor, as you say.

On plants, like mine, that are expected to produce over a stretch of 6 months, the key is 1) prevent the plant from producing that flowering spike (by plucking it off when it forms) and 2) to encourage the plant to frequently produce new branches - branches that haven't yet flowered - by constantly removing leaves at the stem above a leaf node (a pair of leaflets). This very active pruning produces a very healthy and sweet basil plant.

I actually like straight-up raw zucchini! When the weather is too hot for turning on the stove, I use it as a substitute for pasta. Good stuff!


Friday 27th of July 2012

Pesto is love :-) My short grain brown rice usually turns into rice pudding; but risotto is kind of like a savory rice pudding, right? And anytime you can put dinner in a bowl, it's all good. I'll bring mine (bowl) right over...


Saturday 28th of July 2012

You should try the risotto cooking method, then. :) Remove from heat when the rice reaches al dente, and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. No mush. Similarly, I usually slightly undercook brown rice (with the normal boiling water prep), fluff it up, and give it a bit longer of a rest time off the heat than called for.