Italian “Fried Rice” with Zucchini, Wild Mushrooms and Parmigiano

Richard writes: I like to make large batches of steamed rice. Normally, I reheat the leftovers in the microwave, but I’ve always been curious about fried rice. Specifically, does it need to be Asian-influenced or could I take the method and apply different flavorings? Thanks, in advance!

Tony’s take: I’m always grateful for questions, but especially for ones like this (ie: something I’ve asked myself before, but have been too lazy to follow up on). Richard, your regular approach to rice is smart. Leftover rice reheats perfectly well (microwave) and is nice to have kicking around in the fridge (where it’ll hold for 4 or 5 days). But turning leftover rice into fried rice with bright and varied accompaniments is even smarter (following the age-old culinary axiom “more stuff = more better”). This free-thinking, global take on fried rice is easy: saute quick-cooking vegetables and aromatics in a nonstick pan until tender and browned, add the rice (already broken up into individual kernels using your fingers), and cook stirring until the rice heats through and the flavors meld. You can divide all the possible fried rice interpretations into two camps:

1) Side-dish-ish “fried rice”:  This is basically all about the vegetables. Brown quick-cooking vegetables (like corn, zucchini, peas, grape tomatoes, thinly sliced asparagus, and so on) as well as base aromatics (garlic, ginger, onions, scallions, or shallots). Add in the rice to reheat and then finish with intense liquids (a splash of sesame oil or lemon juice or hot sauce), fresh herbs, and something rich if you like (grated cheese or a pat of butter or good olive oil). 

2) Dinner “fried rice”: This approach takes the vegetable-centric method above and turns it into a full-fledged meal by adding in something substantial:  diced meat  (like ham, crisp bacon, roasted chicken, or shrimp), a poached egg or even tofu. Both Chinese fried rice and Korean bimbimbap fit this hearty profile.

The technique:  I had some shrimp that I was going to throw on the barbie, so I wanted to make the rice more side-dish-ish. I diced up and sauteed zucchini first until it was browned and a little tender, then added in some wild mushrooms (a mix of shiitakes and cremini), grape tomatoes, and a couple of smashed garlic cloves. I cooked the rice until was hot and then finished by tossing with some Parmigiano and a touch of lemon juice. IMG_0035 The recipe

Serves 4 as a side dish.

1. Prep the rice and veg: Using your fingers, break up 3 cups cooked rice (either brown or white rice is fine) into individual grains. and then toss the rice (in a medium bowl) with 1 Tbs. olive oil so the oil coats the grains. Cut 1 small zucchini (about 6 oz.) into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 1/4 cups) and stem and dice one 3 1/2-oz pack shiitake mushrooms.IMG_0041 2. Saute the vegetables: Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the diced zucchini and 1 smashed garlic clove and cook, stirring, until it starts to brown and soften, 2 to  3 minutes. Add the diced shiitakes and 1 cup grape tomatoes (halve them if they’re large). Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and 2 Tbs. chopped fresh basil and cook stirring until the mushrooms soften and brown (press down the grape tomatoes so they start to wilt, too).IMG_00433. “Stir-fry” the rice: Add the rice and, still over medium-high heat, cook, stirring with a heat-proof spatula, until the grains completely heat through and brown in places, 2 to 3 min. Stir in 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of fresh lemon juice (about 1 tsp.). Season with more salt or lemon juice to taste and serve.
IMG_0044