Monday, November 16, 2009

Vegetable and Seafood Risotto

Risotto is such a wonderful and comforting meal. I learned how to make this Italian dish from the cookbook, Risotto, by Ursula Ferrigno.

I find this dish so versatile - perfect for a relaxed weekday meals or elegant dinner parties. Risotto is made with short-grain rice, which absorbs a large amount of liquid without the grains losing their bite. There are three main varieties: arborio, carnaroli, and vialone nano. Each one brings a slightly different texture to the dish. Arboria, perhaps the best-known, produces a dense risotto that can become too stiff if overcooked. Carnaroli is the most expensive, but its tender yet firm grain is ideal for risotto. It is also the least likely to overcook. Vialone nano is favored by Venetian cooks. (This is Ursula's preferred rice) It gives a creamy, voluptuous risotto.

Perfect risotto is easy to achieve. All you need is a good-quality risotto rice, homemade stock (preferred, but I usually use a low sodium fat free canned chicken stock), a wide shallow pan, and 18-20 minutes of constant stirring while the rice cooks. There are no short cuts, unfortunately, but SO WORTH IT!

Good risotto is made in stages. The key is to add hot, flavorful stock - a ladleful at a time - to the rice in the pan, stirring constantly until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is al dente. It should never be dry or sticky, but have a "wave-like" (all'onda) consistency. A risotto should stand for 2 minutes before serving, then be spooned into warmed bowls, not plates, and served with a fork, never a spoon. The moral of the story is that risotto is very yummy and surprisingly easy.

There are four steps.

  1. Lightly cook shallots (or onion and garlic) in oil and butter until softened.
  2. Add rice and stir until well coated and glistening.
  3. Add stock, a ladleful at a time, and simmer, stirring until absorbed before adding more. Repeat until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender but still firm.
  4. Mix in flavorings, such as vegetables, herbs, and cheese.
The picture above is a risotto I made full of good for you vegetables that I found in the fridge. I added chopped carrots in step one along with the onions because they are a dense veggie that needed to simmer and soften. I also added two big handfuls of edemame. I was actually munching on them while I cooked and decided to throw them into the risotto at the end. My favorite addition is the spinach. I used fresh baby spinach and stirred them in with the last ladle of chicken stock and it wilted perfectly in the hot risotto.

Here is a seafood risotto that I found on the cooking light web site. Jim absolutely LOVED this recipe and told me it was in his top 10. (Hint, they are all in his top ten.)

With this recipe from cooking light, there is supposed to be two healthful portions but I found this made two HUGE portions and more realistically enough for four people. I completed the meal with a salad, asparagus and crisp white wine.

2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice (I only used about 3/4 of the bottle)
2 teaspoons butter
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1/2 cup uncooked Arborio rice
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed (omitted)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
4 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 ounces bay scallops
2 tablespoons whipping cream (omitted)
Chopped fresh parsley (omitted)

1. Bring broth and clam juice to a simmer in a medium saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.

2. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots to pan; cook 2 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add rice to pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add lemon juice to pan; cook 15 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in 1/2 cup hot broth mixture; cook 2 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next.

3. Stir in tomatoes; cook for 1 minute. Stir in shrimp; cook for 4 minutes or until shrimp is done, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in cream. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.

I cooked the scallops separately. First I rinsed and dried these, sprinkled with salt, pepper and then dusted with whole wheat flour. (flour so they form a crust when I sear them.)

I heated just a little bit of olive oil over medium high heat, then put the scallops in - and let them sear. Don't move them around, just let them get a nice brown color on one side.

Then flip and let them sear on the other side until a nice brown crisp skin forms. Dont' walk away, this happens fast.

This was a fabulous meal! Top 10 in fact...

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