Friday, March 9, 2012
Risotto Alla Certosina
Italian food is my personal zenith when it comes to cooking. It's a crowd pleaser (who doesn't like Italian food?), it's varied, filling, soothing, delicious, and it's easy more often than not. More than any other type of cuisine, I turn to it in a pinch, when I want to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes with minimal effort. When I've had one of those days, there's almost nothing better than digging into a big plate of spaghetti coated with a homemade batch of luscious tomato sauce with butter. It's food for the soul, a balm for the weary, and any number of other cliched platitudes that happen to be absolutely true when it comes to cucina italiana. Can you tell I love Italian food yet? Yes? Good. Now let's talk exceptions.
Don't get me wrong, I love risotto. I order it at restaurants. I get ridiculously excited if someone offers to make it for me (this has only happened once, now that I think about it). I eat it with a kind of zeal that may or may not be mistaken for gluttony. I love the stuff. But in the kitchen, risotto has always eluded me. Let's face it: risotto is a scary prospect when you're faced with making it yourself. All that constant stirring and monitoring and god forbid it turns out overcooked (which, apparently, can happen in the space between mere seconds)! It's exhausting just thinking about it. I'd rather boil some water, throw a fistful of pasta in, set the timer, and call it a day. Which is why, perhaps, I made my first ever risotto just a couple of weeks ago. That's right. First ever risotto. And you know what? It wasn't that bad. I'll give it to you straight--it was a lot of stirring. As in, my right arm was just about falling off by the time those little arborio suckers were toothsome and right. But it wasn't as delicate or easy to mess up as I'd thought. And it was really, really good. I won't be making this every day, or even every month, but for a special night, it's perfect. And more importantly, my fear of risotto is a long gone memory. xo
Risotto Alla Certosina
Adapted from Canal House Cooking, Volume No. 7, by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer
1 lb shrimp
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Handful of parsley stems, chopped
Salt and pepper
One 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2/3 cup dry vermouth
Peel of 1 lemon
1 cup arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano rice
Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shells for the broth, and set aside. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large pot with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp shells, half of the onions, the celery, carrots, garlic, and parsley stems. Season with salt and pepper, and saute until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 1/3 cup of the vermouth, and the lemon peel, and cook for 5 minutes. Add 5 cups of water and cook for 15 minutes. Strain the broth, then return it to the pot. Add the shrimp and place the pot on the stove, off the heat.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy, deep saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining onions and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice, stirring until it is coated with butter. Add the remaining 1/3 cup vermouth.
Add 1/2 cup of the hot broth, stirring constantly to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Push any rice that crawls up the sides of the pan back down into the liquid. When the rice has absorbed all the broth, add another 1/2 cup of simmering broth. Keep adding broth and stirring. Taste the rice, it is done when it is tender with a firm center. This should take about 30 minutes. If you run out of broth, just add hot water in it's place until the rice is done. Add the shrimp in when you have about 5 minutes of cooking time left. When the rice is done, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and stir until it has melted into the rice.