Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Seafood Risotto

Those who know me know that I cooked at a seafood restaurant during college.  I hated the job and, after I quit for law school, I basically stopped cooking.  My culinary renaissance came when I took a vacation in Italy that was coordinated by the Smithsonian Institution.  Led by a local chef, who was born in Tuscany, the trip took a group of us through Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, where we learned not only about how food was made, but we also got to see demonstrations of how it should be prepared.  Upon returning from this vacation, I renewed my interest in cooking.  I decided to focus on one cuisine, so that I learn the ingredients, cooking techniques and the presentation. I chose Italian cuisine, for obvious reasons.

There are few dishes more quintessentially Italian than risotto.  Arabs brought the short-grained rice to Sicily and Spain during the 14th century.  However, as for the origins of the dish known as "risotto," that is the stuff of legend.  More specifically, during the construction of the Duomo di Milano, an apprentice glassmaker named Valeris had the task of making the glass for the dome.  The townsfolk in Milan teased Valerius about his work, placing the credit for the vibrant glass on his use of saffron rather than his talents.  Tired of the teasing, Valerius decided to play a prank on the townspeople who were gathered for his master's wedding.  Valerius added large amounts of saffron to the rice prepared for the meal at the wedding.  Far from a prank, the townspeople loved the rice dish, which became what we know to be risotto.  (For those who want to learn more, you can check out this website and this other website.)

Setting the legends aside, the reality is that risotto is a blank canvas, which a cook can use to make a work of culinary art.  The canvas is arborio rice.  The cook can add a variety of broths or stocks (beef, chicken, vegetable or seafood), wines and a variety of meats, seafood and/or vegetables, along with a variety of herbs and spices.  I've made a few different risottos and, over time, I intend to post the recipes for those risottos on my blog.  For now, I'll start at the beginning, because all of my risottos flow from a basic recipe that I found in a cookbook that is far from Italian -- the Pike's Place Seafood Cookbook.  The cookbook contains a recipe for Shellfish Risotto.  True to form, I've never followed the recipe to the letter; instead, I use it as a guide.  And, with that guide, I produced what I consider to be my first true work of culinary art.

Adapted from the Pike's Place Seafood Cookbook at 113-114
Serves 4

4 cups of seafood stock
2 cups of water
1/2 cup of white wine
1/2 pound of shelled and deveined shrimp (get the largest count available)
1/4 pound of cleaned squid
1/2 pound of halibut
1 1/2 cups of arborio rice
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 sweet or Vidalia onion, minced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
Oregano, to taste
Salt, to taste
Several leaves of basil
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

1.  In a sauce pan, heat the seafood stock and water to a simmer.  Keep stock warm over low heat.

2.  In another pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic.  Saute the onion and garlic for about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the rice and stir the rice so that the rice is covered by the olive oil.  Add the white wine and cook until the wine is almost absorbed, stirring often for a couple of minutes.

3.  Stir in 1 cup of warm stock.  Simmer slowly and stir often until the liquid is almost absorbed.  Adjust the heat of necessary so that the stock does not evaporate too quickly.

4.  Continue adding stock either by 1/2 cup or 1 cup amounts, stirring continuously until the stock is absorbed.  When there is about 1 cup of stock left, add the halibut and the shrimp and continue and stir with another 1/2 cup of stock.

5.  By this time, the rice should be creamy in consistency and cooked al dente (firm to the bite) and seafood should be partially cooked.  Add the squid  and cook for a couple of minutes until it is opaque.  Remove from heat, add butter and stir well.  Also add oregano, basil and pepper to taste.

6.  Serve in bowls.  Chiffonade the basil and sprinkle over the risotto.  Also, sprinkle grated Parmigiano Reggiano if desired.


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