There is something wonderful about fat in food. It gives a cozy warm fullness and a luxuriousness on the tongue that place dishes like Roasted Duck or Fettuccine Alfredo near the top of my yearned-for meals. I like fat, and lots of it.
But when the storm last night caused us to back out of our party plans and stay local, we didn’t want to end 2012 with a guilt-inducing fat fest. We weren’t looking to moderate ourselves into monkishness, though. We wanted something rich, tasty and celebratory.
We chose Shrimp Risotto – fairly easy to prepare, tasty as all get-out, relatively inexpensive, and reminiscent of our trip to Italy – a highlight of 2012 and of our lives. And, surprisingly, not all that horrible for you, given its decadent richness.
If you’ve never made risotto, here’s the secret. Buy Arborio rice at the grocery store – it’s not cheap compared to other rice, but a cup of it provides the backbone of a meal that will stuff two and leave enough leftovers to feed them again, so go ahead and blow $5 on a bag that will feed you 6 or 8 times.
Arborio rice is short-grained and starchy. Prepared correctly, that starch oozes into a rich, thick base to deliver flavor provided by broth and whatever else is included. Because it is slick and thick, it fools your mouth into thinking it is enjoying a fatty, cholesterol-heavy suicide meal instead of a much more reasonable starchy treat. Depending on what is included with the risotto, you’re looking at something between 250-500 calories for a big serving. It’s not rabbit food, but you could do far worse.
For the meal last night, I bought half a pound of gulf shrimp (on sale at $8.99 a pound) and when I peeled them, I put the shells into a couple cups of water and a bottle of clam juice to make a seafood broth for about half the fluid I would soon be needing. After that was ready, I strained out the shells, and added some wine and beef broth (I had intended to use chicken broth, but we didn’t have any, and one of the points I’m trying to make here is that you can be flexible in the kitchen) to bring it to about 5 cups of hot broth.
I sauteed a finely-chopped medium white onion and 3 cloves of garlic with a bit of olive oil in a medium saucepan, and when the onions and garlic were soft and translucent, I added a cup of dry arborio rice to the mixture and sauteed the rice for a couple minutes, too. Sauteing the rice gives it a bit of a nutty flavor, though some argue for a much more complex procedure.
Part of the reason that risotto seems like a somewhat romantic meal to me is because of what comes next. You stir for a long time. Making risotto calls for patience and devotion. Gratification postponed. No rushing, but steadfastly being there. It’s a married couple dish, not for speed daters.
You add a cup of the hot broth and you stir. Eventually, the broth gets absorbed into the grains of rice, and they ooze a bit of starchy goodness, so it’s a thick porridge that won’t level itself out perfectly when you pull the spoon out, and then you add another cup. (By the way, use a wooden spoon, just because a metal spoon on your saucepan sounds annoying.) After about 3 cups or so, start tasting bits of rice. I added about 4 cups before my rice hit the stage I wanted – no chalky hard part in the center, but still just barely firm.
At that point, I added the shrimp which I had cut up into small pieces, and a bit of lemon zest to liven things up. Then I grated a couple ounces of really, really good Pecorino Romano on top of it, stirred it a couple minutes till the shrimp was cooked through, and it was ready for serving. (A bit of chopped parsley is a good idea to add color and a bit of bite if you have it.)
Was it good? Hell, yes, it was good. We ate it with a wonderful sparkling wine made by a great movie director and named after a great movie director, and 2012 ended on a high note. A fitting ending to a year that was challenging and even awful for some, but was rich and delightful in our corner of the world, for which we are truly thankful.