Friday, November 26, 2010

Risotto dell'Aragosto con Zafferano

I've been wanting to make Saffron Lobster Risotto for Clare for some time.  I've made the dish for Clare a couple times in the past, but I had the urge to make it for her again.  And, I had a great opportunity recently because a local supermarket has been having a sale on lobster tails, $5.99 per 6 ounce tail.  So, I bought four tails and went to work on making the risotto. 

Generally, when I make this risotto I try to draw my inspiration from Abruzzo, the region in Italy from where my mother's relatives emigrated to the United States.  Abruzzo is a truly interesting region in the culinary sense.  To the east, there is the Adriatic Sea, which is the source for a lot of seafood.  In the west, there are the mountains, where farming is limited but herding provides lamb and mutton.  And, in between, there are fields and valleys, where farmers grow wheat, olives, grapes and, for this recipe, saffron.

Crocus Sativus (Picture is from Wikipedia)
Saffron, which is the dried stem of the Crocus Sativus, grows on the Navelli plain in the province of L'Aquila in Abruzzo.  According to legend, a priest named Santucci brought saffron to Abruzzo from Spain during the height of the Inquisition.  Since then, farmers have cultivated and grown saffron in Abruzzo; however, they do not produce enough to export the spice outside of Italy.  When you see saffron in the stores, it is most likely from Kashmir or Spain, but its cultivation practically extends around the world, where farmers in Greece, Turkey, Iran, India, China and even the United States cultivate the flower for the precious stems that provide a truly unique flavor -- and its signature yellowish color -- to any dish.   

So, for me, the lobster represents the coastline of Abruzzo, the saffron represents the fields of the region and, for the hills and mountains, there is the wine.  The recipe calls for 1 cup of white wine and, in my nod to the Abruzzo region, I used a Trebbiano d'Abruzzo.

Finally, I decided to change how I made the risotto.  I made the rice and the lobster separately, combining the two at the end just before plating the dish.  The reason for the change is that I wanted to try to perfect the saffron risotto itself, without adding the flavors of the lobster into the risotto.  In other words, I wanted to be able to take a fork of risotto and just taste the risotto and the saffron, without the lobster. 

In the end, this dish is like two separate dishes -- lobster and saffron risotto.  Whether taken separately or together, lobster and risotto make for one great dish.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

Ingredients for the broth:
4 cups of seafood stock
2 cups of water
Several large basil leaves
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
A healthy pinch of saffron

Ingredients for the Risotto:

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 cup of white wine
2-3 tablespoons of fresh flat leave parsley, finely chopped

Ingredients for the Lobster:
4 lobster tails
2 cloves of garlic, diced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Several basil leaves, chopped finely
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper.
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Take a pair of kitchen scissors (scissors that you use to cut food, like chicken or seafood) and cut down the back of the tail.  Cut down the middle and then open the tail.  Work your fingers in between the meat and the shell to separate them.  Pull the lobster meat out gently.  Cut into even size pieces and set aside in the refrigerator.

2.  Make the broth by combining the seafood stock and water in a pot.   Heat the broth until it is just about to boil, reduce the heat and allow it to simmer.  Add the basil and the saffron.  Let the broth simmer for about 15 to 30 minutes. 

3.  Add the olive oil in a separate pot and heat to medium.  Add the onions first and saute for several minutes until translucent.  After a couple of minutes of sauteing the onions, add the garlic and continue to saute.

4.  When the onions and garlic are translucent, add the arborio rice and stir to cover the rice with the olive oil, onions and garlic.  Then add the white wine and continue to stir until the wine is almost absorbed by the rice.

5.  When the wine is just about absorbed by the rice, add 1 cup of the broth and continue to stir.   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.  Once that cup of broth is almost absorbed by the rice, add another cup of the broth and continue to stir.

6.  Continue adding stock either by 1/2 cup or 1 cup amounts to the risotto, stirring continuously until the stock is absorbed.  Every once in a while, taste the rice.  Once the rice becomes creamy in consistency and is cooked al dente (firm to the bite), it is done. 

7.  When the rice is almost finished, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a saute pan on medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and saute for one minute.  Add the lobster and garlic.  Saute the lobster for about five minutes, until the lobster is translucent.  Stir often to ensure that all sides of the lobster are cooked through.


For more information about the history of saffron in Abruzzo, check out Delicious Italy.

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