Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shrimp and Mushroom Risotto with Black Truffle Oil

I think it's time for another recipe from my non-existent kitchen and this time I'm going to ask you to use your imagination, because we're making risotto. This Italian favorite, like gnocchi, has a reputation for being finicky and complicated.  I like to think that my recipe proves this false, but, just in case, we'll imagine that we're cooking under the watchful, but knowledgeable gaze of an Italian nonna, in a cosy cucina bathed in late-afternoon Tuscan sunlight. It's a stretch, sure, but since I'm writing from a kitchen-free hotel room, I may as well go for it!

I've always loved risotto and I think it's a texture thing - there's something so nourishing and comforting about warm, creamy foods, and I love the way the dish is transformed by the addition of various add-ins. A seafood risotto is very different from a truffle-and-bacon infused dish, or a risotto simply flavored with good, aged cheese. Good risotto should be richly creamy, but still slightly al dente, retaining the core texture of the separate grains. It should 'flow' over the plate, without being runny, and is often served in wide, flat bowls to facilitate this. It's best eaten immediately after cooking because retained heat will continue to cook the rice and may cause the risotto to become dry or gummy.

When making risotto, the rice is all-important.  Ordinary medium- or long-grain white rice won't give you the desired creamy-but-resistant texture because it doesn't have the requisite amount of starch. Instead, short-grain, high-starch Italian rices are used. Possible varieties include Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Pandano, Roma and Vialone Nano, but Arborio is often the most readily available in the States.*  Many of these specialty varieties, including Arborio, are quite expensive so I developed a cheaper substitute while living in Germany.  In this recipe, I use Milchreis - an inexpensive, short-grain rice used for rice pudding in Germany - but you can certainly substitute Arborio or any of the other Italian varieties you may have available. Each variety has different properties (some cook quickly, others may be more al dente) so be sure to read up on your rice before cooking.

A lot of white ingredients ready for the pot

I know that my recipe isn't exactly authentic (in addition to the Milchreis substitution, I like to add parmesan even when making a seafood risotto which is not done in traditional Italian cooking) but I've tasted 'real' risotto in Italy and I think this recipe comes pretty close. Risotto has a reputation for being laborious and time-consuming, and this is partly true - it's important to keep stirring the rice as you add the liquid and this may take 30 minutes or more - but you shouldn't let this deter you from trying this recipe.  Risotto is about timing and the more often you make it, the more expert you'll become at catching the perfect moment between done and overdone.

All risottos consist of the same basic steps, so there's a lot of room to innovate and incorporate seasonal produce and available proteins, herbs and spices. The first step is to make a soffritto of onions and garlic - chop them finely and heat them in olive oil or unsalted butter until translucent.  To this you add the uncooked rice for the tostatura, which means 'toasting.' This step is designed to coat each grain of rice in a layer of fat, sealing in the starch. The test for doneness is when the formerly opaque grains become glistening and slightly translucent, but not browned (if you're brave enough, they should be hot to the touch!). Next, a small amount of wine is usually added - this is optional, but the wine should be at least room temperature to avoid 'shocking' the rice which will create a hard center in each grain and may cause it to break up during cooking. Once the wine is absorbed, hot beef, chicken or vegetable stock is added in small increments. Stir continuously and only add more stock when the previous addition has been absorbed. The amount of liquid added will determine the texture of the risotto and you should stop adding stock when the rice just reaches the al dente stage (so keep a tasting spoon handy!). Remember that the rice will continue to cook slightly after you remove it from the heat for the mantecatura. This final step is when olive oil or cold butter and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese are stirred in to bind all the ingredients and make them extra creamy before serving.

And there you have the essentials for making risotto! There are a few more tips and then we'll move on to the recipe:
1. Always use a wide, heavy saucepan (copper bottomed is best if you have it) - it's much easier to burn the rice in a thin-bottomed pan.
2. Use a wooden spoon to stir the rice (I'm not sure why, but everyone says this so who am I to argue!)
3. Always use hot stock and make more than you think you will need. You can't stop the cooking to make more once it's started and you can always freeze any leftovers for later use.
4. Serve immediately to ensure your rice is creamy, not gummy.  For extra creamy risotto, your can stir in a scant quarter cup of heavy cream, but I've never found this necessary with this recipe and think it might be a bit much!

Shrimp and Mushroom Risotto
(serves four as a primo,  or two very generous main courses)

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 green onions, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
1 cup rice (Arborio, Milchreis or other short-grain, round rice)
3-4 cups vegetable stock
1/3 cup dry white wine
7 ounces mushrooms (8-10 medium)
8 ounces shrimp, cooked and peeled
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
1 Tablespoon cold butter (this is optional and I usually omit it if the rice seems creamy enough)
Thyme or basil to taste

In a large, thick-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat, saute onions and garlic until translucent (reserve some green onion to add later for color and garnish) - about 5 minutes.

Stir in rice and cook until glistening and translucent (7-10 minutes). Do not allow rice to become browned.

Add wine and stir until it is absorbed. Increase heat to medium and begin adding hot stock in half-cup increments. Stir between each addition and only add more when the previous addition has been absorbed.  When the rice begins to soften and become creamy, add mushrooms and allow them to cook down. Continue stirring and adding stock until the rice reaches the al dente stage. At this point, add remaining green onions and cooked shrimp, and heat until warmed through. Stir in butter (if desired), grated cheese and your herbs of choice (I usually use thyme or basil).  Remove from heat and serve immediately in wide, flat bowls. If desired, garnish with a little grated cheese or a drizzle of truffle oil.

A few notes: This recipe is for seafood risotto, but now that you know the basic techniques, the possibilities are endless.  As I mentioned earlier, seafood risotto does not traditionally include grated cheese, but Matt and I like it so my version does! One of the great things about risotto is the fact that it's blank canvas, giving you lots of room to innovate and add your favorite ingredients and flavors.

*For more information about different rice varieties, check out this informative post at Just Hungry.

This post is linked at:
33 Shades of Green: Tasty Tuesdays

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