Sunday, September 8, 2013

Start of another year of classes!

On Wednesday, I'll be back in front of students at CU, teaching them basic cooking skills (and a few cooking tricks, too). They have requested risotto, which isn't what I consider *basic* cooking. But, it's not really hard either. We'll be cooking two recipes: Risotto with Chickpeas, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Greens which has already appeared on the blog and this recipe for Shrimp and Mushroom Risotto.

Risotto takes attention and lots of stirring. It's not particularly challenging aside from paying attention to what's on your stove for about 30 minutes. It's more expensive than white rice, but not so expensive. I found Italian risotto for $2.25/pound which isn't bad at all. Risotto is creamy and rich without being full of fat. The starch in this short-grain rice dissolves out of the rice grains with all that stirring, making a "creamy" mouth feel whether or not you add lots of butter or cream. A little bit of fat is added for flavor but you don't need it for richness. It's a bit of culinary magic!

Risotto is a great place to use up leftovers: add some vegetables or cooked meat at the end. Add a little cheese. Add some cooked beans. Mushrooms. Risotto is a neutral background that backs up all sorts of delicious lead singers. Experiment!

The shrimp in this recipe is cut into ½ inch pieces, so feel free to use whatever size of raw shrimp is cheapest at the market. There are folks who instantly dismiss any  Italian recipe that combines cheese and seafood. This is is a regional thing - depending on where you are, they will either revile or adore cheese combined with seafood. I'm not from anywhere in Italy, so I'm glad to be agnostic in this debate.

Shrimp and Mushroom Risotto
(makes 6 servings)

6 cups vegetable stock
3 Tablespoons butter
¼ cup finely minced onions or shallots
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
salt and black pepper
2 cups Arborio rice
12 ounces of shelled and deveined raw shrimp, cut into ½" pieces
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat up the stock in a soup pot until it reaches a simmer. Reduce the heat to keep it hot but not boiling. In another medium soup pot or large saucepan, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the onion and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the mushrooms release their water and most of it cooks off. Allow the mushrooms and onions to brown slightly. Stir in salt and black pepper - if the stock is salted, don't add any salt at this stage.

Add the rice and stir until the rice turns a light golden color and it smells a little toasted. Start adding the stock, a ½ cup at a time, and stir until all the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Adjust the heat so that the stock simmers briskly when you add it, but the sauce doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan, usually medium-low to medium heat. When all liquid is absorbed, add another ½ cup of stock and keep on stirring. You don't have to stir constantly, but you should stir it often so that the rice can absorb the stock and release its starch.

After about 20 minutes, test a rice kernel to see how close it is to done. At this point, it may be hard or chalky in the center and you'll need to add more stock and cook it further. As with pasta, you are aiming for al dente, not mushy and not hard but with a little bit of a bite. At 20 minutes, add the shrimp and stir it in. It will cook quickly. Even if your risotto is done, it will cook before the risotto goes too far. At Boulder, Colorado altitude - approximately 5400 ft. - risotto takes 25-30 minutes. If you live at sea level, it may be done in 20 minutes. If you run out of stock before the risotto is done, use hot water or more stock, if you have it. But, make sure it's hot.

When the shrimp has turned pink, remove the risotto from the heat, stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and cheese, and let sit, covered, for a couple of minutes. Serve immediately.

Risotto can be reheated in a microwave, which works much better than the stovetop. It won't be creamy but it is passable. If you have 2 cups of leftover risotto, you can combine it with a beaten egg, and fry this in a small amount of butter or olive oil. It makes a delicious "pancake."

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