Risotto – A Cautionary Tale

Risotto ai carciofi e gamberi

Risotto ai carciofi e gamberi

Two weeks ago, we were treated to a delicious artichoke and shrimp risotto at my son’s communion party at Trattoria L’Incontro in Queens, NY.  The risotto’s bright yet earthy flavors were an ode to spring.  However, when you’re hosting an affair, you never have ample opportunity to enjoy your guests or your food and I left the restaurant wishing I could have truly savored this wonderful dish.

I love trying to recreate restaurant dishes at home and risotto has always been a favorite of mine to prepare.  Once you’ve mastered the technique, you can let your creativity run wild.   However, risotto is also a dish with a Type-A personality – it demands both organized preparation and undivided attention.  So whenever I decide to make risotto, I dutifully set up an organized mise en place (which is atypical of my prep-as-I-go cooking style), pour myself a glass of crisp white wine and immerse myself in the experience of transforming everyday rice into something so creamily sublime.

So what happened last Tuesday evening when I sought to re-create L’Incontro’s shrimp and artichoke risotto for dinner?  I ended up with material for a blog post on what NOT to do when you’re preparing risotto:

Don’t make risotto while trying to do a social studies project about education in the 1700s with your second-grader.  The art of risotto-making requires and deserves loving attention and focus.  It is not a friend to multitasking.  Running back and forth between the kitchen and dining room table where my seven-year old was doing his homework led to sticky (literally, in the case of the rice) resentment from both the risotto and the child.

Don’t miscalculate how much stock you’ll need.   Always err on the side of heating up too much stock. I initially defrosted 2 quarts of homemade seafood stock and midway through cooking the risotto, realized I needed more.  I removed another quart from the freezer and frantically tried to loosen the frozen block of liquid from its plastic container with the heat and steam radiating from the simmering pots on the stove.  When I tried to slide the stock into the pot, it slipped out and splashed all over my stovetop.

Check that you have enough of the same type of rice before you begin to cook.  Oops. I ended up using one cup of each of Arborio and Carnaroli.  It wasn’t fatal (fortunately, it was a combination of those two and not the third type of risotto rice, Vialone Nano, a much smaller grain), but there was a bit of unevenness in cooking time and texture.

Make sure you have enough wine (for yourself!).  Enjoying a glass of wine while lovingly stirring is a crucial part of my risotto-making experience. Unfortunately, to add insult to injury, I had to forgo this custom last Tuesday evening as I only had enough wine for the risotto.

Don’t use fresh artichokes because they are a huge pain to clean! (Kidding…sort of…)  OK, I don’t mean this one at all. I love artichokes and take every opportunity to make them during their their preciously short season.  However, FACT, they are not fun to clean.  I used baby artichokes which are a lot less faticoso but still somewhat laborious.  However, in my haste, I did not remove enough of the tough outer layers of leaves and had to remove them midway through cooking.  (And FYI, I actually think that frozen artichoke hearts would have worked quite well in this dish, but couldn’t justify using them when fresh artichokes are in season.)

photo(72)

Despite these mishaps, the risotto turned out quite good. The rice was creamy yet al dente, the shrimp was perfectly cooked, the artichokes were earthy and the whole dish was brightened by a subtle touch of Meyer lemon zest.  I hope you’ll try it – provided you heed my warnings, you’ll have a quite satisfying cooking experience!

Risotto al Carciofi e Gamberi

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking © (inspired by Trattoria L’Incontro, Astoria, NY)

  • 10 baby artichokes
  • 1 lemon, zested (reserve zest for finishing the risotto)
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • ½ cup of dry white wine
  • 1½ cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • 8-10 cups of seafood (or vegetable) stock
  • 1 lb small shrimp or larger shrimp cut into smaller 1-inch pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Using a serrated knife, cut off the prickly top third of the baby artichokes and discard. Pull back each dark outer leaf and snap it off at the base until you reach the tender, pale green inner leaves. Use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to remove the tough outer layers around the stem and cut off the bottom 1/4 inch of the stem.  Slice the cleaned artichokes in half with a serrated knife and then slice into pieces about 1/2 inch thick. Place them in a bowl of water acidulated with the juice of a lemon.

Place your stock into a saucepan, and bring it to a simmer over low heat with a ladle nearby.

Drain the artichokes and pat dry. Heat the oil in a wide and deep heavy skillet or risotto pan over medium heat. Add the chopped shallot and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until tender, stirring often, about five minutes. Add the sliced artichokes, and stir for five minutes until they begin to soften.

Add the rice, and stir until the grains are well-coated and begin to crackle. Add the wine, and stir over medium heat until it has been absorbed by the rice.  Add two ladlefuls of the simmering stock (the stock should just cover the rice and should be bubbling, neither too slowly nor too quickly). Cook, stirring often, until the liquid is almost absorbed.  Add another ladleful or two of the stock, and continue to cook in this manner — adding more stock when the rice is almost dry, then stirring — for 20 to 25 minutes.

When the rice is tender but still slightly al dente, add the shrimp and lemon zest along with another ladleful of stock.  Stir to combine for about 30 seconds and turn off the heat.  Continue to stir so that the residual heat finishes cooking the shrimp, until they just turn pink (this will prevent the shrimp from overcooking). The risotto should be somewhat loose and spread when plated.  If it appears too stiff or dry, add another ladleful of stock to loosen it.  Season with salt and pepper and finish with a drizzle of good olive oil.

Serve immediately in wide bowls or on plates.  Buon appetito!

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6 thoughts on “Risotto – A Cautionary Tale

  1. Kat at travelgardeneat May 8, 2013 at 12:02 am Reply

    You need an asterisk next to the 1/2 c dry white wine (* reserve additional half bottle for the cook!)

  2. Domenica Marchetti May 10, 2013 at 6:06 pm Reply

    I know what you mean about all of that ~ especially the artichokes. Plus, people keep posting these unbelievable photos of artichokes in Italy. Nothing here compares. Funny post ~ grazie per la risata cara.

    • Majella Home Cooking May 11, 2013 at 8:30 am Reply

      Grazie, Domenica! I’m sure you remember well the challenges of getting dinner on the table with little kids (literally) pulling on your apron strings! And I agree with you…seeing photos of Italian markets makes me feel as if “non vale la pena” with the artichokes we have here. A presto! Michelle

  3. ciaochowlinda May 11, 2013 at 8:22 am Reply

    Thanks for being so honest with all your trials and tribulation in making this dish. Glad the end product turned out so well though.

    • Majella Home Cooking May 11, 2013 at 8:31 am Reply

      Thanks, Linda! And Mikey also did well on his social studies project so success all around! See you in a few weeks!!

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