September 11, 2011

Risotto with Shrimp and Spinach

Recently I decided to make risotto.  I've only had risotto a few times, and although I've always loved it, I only recently got around to making some myself.  By sauteing some shrimp and spinach and stirring that into the finished Arborio rice, I made a easy and fairly fast dinner.

The technique is pretty simple, really.  The only touchy point about risotto is that the rice needs to be stirred pretty much constantly for about 25-30 minutes.  Once it starts to get tender, it also tends to stick on to the pan and burn unless you keep stirring.  With a little caution, though, this is pretty easy to avoid.

My first try at risotto turned out great.  The rice was creamy and flavorful, while the clam juice gave it a subtle seafood flavor that nicely complemented the tender, juicy shrimp.  As meals go, this really wasn't very time consuming.  It probably took about an hour from start to finish.  I served it up with fresh-from-the-oven garlic bread, which warmed up in the oven while I stirred the rice and which went great with the risotto.

Risotto with Shrimp and Spinach

yield = 4 servings

1              pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3              tablespoons olive oil,divided
2              teaspoons minced garlic, divided
1/2           teaspoon table salt (+ additional to taste)
1/2           teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper (+ additional to taste)
3              cups bottled clam juice
1              bag (9 ounces) spinach
2              medium shallots, finely minced
2              cups Arborio rice
3/4           cup dry white wine
1/4           teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1              tablespoon unsalted butter

Mix together the shrimp, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon table salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl.  Cover and set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the clam juice and 3 1/2 cups of water.  Bring to a steady, low simmer.

Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet.  When the oil is shimmering, add the shrimp.  Saute until slightly browned on one side (1 1/2 minutes), then flip the shrimp over and cook until it is lightly browned on the other side (another 1-2 minutes).  Transfer to a clean bowl and cover.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and heat to shimmering.  Add the remaining teaspoon of garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds.   Add the spinach and cook it, stirring often, until it is thoroughly wilted.  Transfer cooked spinach to a bowl and cover.

Add the final tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and heat to shimmering.  Add the shallots and cook, stirring often, until they have softened (about 3 minutes).  Add the rice and cook, stirring often, until it is translucent with a white dot in the middle of the grains (about 2 minutes).  Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is absorbed. 

Add the red pepper flakes and a ladle of the hot clam juice mixture at a time and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is absorbed.   Continue adding the liquid one ladle at a time, cooking and stirring constantly after each addition, until the liquid is nearly absorbed.  After about 25 minutes, the grains will be tender and creamy-looking, but slightly firm at the center.  With the final addition of liquid, stir in the shrimp, spinach and butter.  Continue to cook until all of the liquid is absorbed.  Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Serve immediately. 

Cooking Tip:
One can make a near-endless number of risotto variants.  Lots of different sorts of vegetables go well with risotto.  Sauteing mushrooms, grated carrots, chili peppers or different sorts of onions works particularly well.  As it cooks, Arborio rice absorbs a lot of liquid, and a lot of flavor along with it.  One can get very different results, flavors and even colors by adding different sorts of liquids and seasonings.  Saffron, curry powder and chicken broth are all good options.  If you cook asparagus in water, then boil the ends of the asparagus stems in the cooking water for a bit, you can then use the asparagus water to cook the rice.  This will result in a risotto with very flavorful green rice.  Similarly, you can soak dried mushrooms in water, saute the rehydrated mushrooms, strain the water in which you soaked the mushrooms and add the strained soaking liquid to the rice to give the rice an earthy, mushroom flavor.

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