Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Risotto con gamberi e piselli (Arborio rice with shrimp and peas)

The first time I had risotto, in a private home in Milano, it was served with the traditional vitello Milanese. I had never had risotto before (my Sicilian family seldom cooked rice; and when they did, it was usually for soups or minestras).

The risotto was squisito! The flavors of the saffron, stock, cheese and butter, all melded together with the arborio rice (which was cooked al dente), made the dish memorable and made me want to try my hand at making risotto as soon as I could.

My first time was awkward. I was a bit nervous, sure I wouldn't be able to do it right. I popped Pavarotti's greatest hits into the CD player, and poured myself a glass of Pinot Grigio, to get me in the mood. With everything I needed at hand, I started in, gently, gently, gently. To achieve perfection, one must not hurry this, or you'll never arrive at your goal. Be patient. Go slowly, enjoy every step of the process, and you will be rewarded for your patience and care. Believe me, you will never be the same once you taste this heavenly, creamy dish.

Basic Risotto: (Serves 4 as a main dish, or 6 as a side dish)

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 3/4 (one and three quarters) cups arborio rice (You cannot substitute any other rice, or the recipe will not work)
1/2 cup white wine
8 cups any flavored stock (I use chicken or veal)
1 loosely packed teaspoon of threads of saffron (optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmeggiano or pecorino cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper

If you are using saffron, soak it in 1/4 cup of hot water. Set aside.

Heat the oil and butter in large saucepan over medium heat, (I use a skillet that is 12" wide with 3" sides). Add onion and garlic, and cook until softened. Stir in the rice and cook until it is nicely coated, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in the wine and stir until it is all absorbed.

Add a bit of the stock so that it barely covers the rice and stir constantly over medium heat until the stock is nearly absorbed, repeat this process, never allowing the pan to get "dry." Keep adding enough stock and repeat the cooking process until the rice is al dente, about 30 minutes. You may not need to use all of the stock, but it is a good idea to have enough on hand. You can always use what is left over for soup.

You'll have to taste the rice to see if it has attained the "al dente" state. It should have a bit of resistance when you bite down on the grains. You don't want this rice to be mushy.

Discard the saffron threads and add saffron water to the mixture. Stir to blend.

Add the cheese and mix thoroughly. Add a bit more butter to make the rice glisten. (Sometimes I even throw in a 1/4 cup of medium cream or sour cream).

Season to taste with salt and pepper and more cheese. Place a sprig of your favorite herb on top and serve immediately.

For the dish that is pictured, I sauted in a separate pan freshly peeled medium shrimp (1/2 pound) and about 3/4 cup of fresh peas. I also minced 1/4 cup of fresh herbs (basil, mint and parsley).

You can use your imagination and add other ingredients to the risotto: mushrooms, other veggies, calamari? pumpkin? Be creative and let me know about your first try at risotto!

Serve with a green salad and pass the Pinot Grigio!

My mouth is watering and it's 7:10 AM! I;ve always been hesitant to nake risotto, but your directions look easy to follow. Thanks
whoa. you've done it again! this looks absolutely incredible.
Hm...not a risotto fan. They ruined it for me at school last winter. I'm sure I just need one that's made well and not reheated. I notice they got rid of one of the chefs who made it all the time...
looks great, and I am not afraid of risotto. But, A TEASPOON OF SAFFRON? Hell, thats a quarter of my weeks grocery budget! Any creative saffron substitutes?

Good point. I should have noted that using saffron in this recipe is optional (I made the correction). And the "teaspoon" is a rough measure. If you use the saffron, measure out just enough threads to fit loosely in a teaspoon.

I can't think of any substitute. But I have made risotto without saffron, and it was wonderful.

Just be sure to use stock and wine, and not plain water.
I use turmeric instead of saffron sometimes. It barely has any flavour in a small quantity but a little provides tons of colour. And it's cheap!

I thought of tumeric, too, but for the same reason (little taste) I didn't suggest it. But you're correcto on the color.

As I've said, you can make risotto without saffron and it still tastes heavenly.
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