Saturday, March 15, 2014

Shellfish Risotto with Saffron

We had dinner at Singer’s house on Ash Wednesday. She served a seafood dish, Shellfish Risotto with Saffron from the Dean and Deluca Cookbook. There used to be a Dean and Deluca on Main Street in Manayunk and I would bring older daughter and baby younger daughter there to enjoy a walk, a cup of coffee and a lovely afternoon of watching the world go by. 

Don’t you just love when you see, hear, smell or eat something that churns-up a wonderful memory?!

Every culture has its own rice staple in its cuisine…the fragrant basmati in India, traditional white rice in China, and in Italy, it’s creamy risotto.  When we were in Italy, we had a delicious and beautiful dish called Amarone Risotto in a charming little restaurant in Verona.  Risotto, a chewy and starchy grain, dances nicely with other flavors, creating a slow and savory waltz on your taste buds.  The fruity, cacao, and spicy notes of the Amarone wine were apparent in this dish, but the grain was certainly hearty enough to be noticed.  The deep red jewel tone of the wine made the dish almost too pretty to eat. 

In Venice, due to city’s proximity to water, cooks often mix seafood with risotto. Venetians frequently serve small plates called “cicchetti” and, I have to be honest, I thought I would scream if presented with yet another small plate of risotto and shrimp, smelt or calamari!  It was interesting the first one or two times, but by the third time I was thinking “what else you got?!”  Now, Milan is one of the fashion capitols of the world, so it makes sense that they introduced a fancy and decadent spice, saffron, to a risotto dish.  So you see, Shellfish Risotto with Saffron is truly a “tale of two cities” offering the best of both. Use the freshest seafood you can find to enhance the flavor experience.

You can read about my trip to Italy here.

Shellfish Risotto with Saffron
From: Dean and Deluca Cookbook

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1 cup dry white wine
18 small cultivated mussels, scrubbed and bearded (Singer substituted clams)
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and shells reserved
6 sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley
two 3-inch strips orange zest
two 3-inch strips lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained and pressed through a sieve (about 1/2 cup puree)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large leeks (white and pale green part only), quartered lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly (about 2 cups)
1 garlic clove, crushed with the side of a knife
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
1/4 pound bay scallops
salt and pepper to taste
minced fresh parsley for garnish

1. Soak the saffron threads in 2 tablespoons warm water in a small bowl for 20 minutes.

2.  Heat the wine and 1 cup water in a large heavy saucepan to boiling.  Add the mussels, cover the pan, and cook over moderately high heat just until the mussels open, about 3 to 6 minutes, discarding any that do not open.  Remove the open mussels with a slotted spoon, place in a bowl, and reserve.

3.  Reduce the heat under the saucepan to moderate and add the shrimp shells, parsley sprigs, zests, fennel seeds and saffron threads with their liquid. Simmer the mixture, covered, for 15 minutes.  Strain the liquid through a very fine sieve lined with damp cheesecloth and discard the solids.  Measure strained liquid and add enough water to make 5 cups.  Transfer the liquid to a saucepan, add the sieved tomatoes, and bring the liquid to a bare simmer.

4.  Heat the butter and olive oil in a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan, and cook the leeks and garlic over moderate heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until very soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the rice, and cook,  stirring constantly, until the edges of the rice become translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add about 1/2 cup simmering liquid to the rice, and cook, stirring constantly and adjusting the heat to maintain a lively simmer (not a steady boil) until all the liquid is absorbed.  Continue adding liquid,  about 1/2 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next.  After 15 minutes of cooking, add the shrimp, scallops, salt, and pepper, and continue to cook until rice is al dente (tender but still firm at the center), about 5 to 10 minutes longer.  (The risotto should be very creamy; if it isn't, add more liquid.)  About 2 minutes before finishing the risotto, add the reserved mussels with their juices.

5.  Remove the pan from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Arrange the risotto on a serving platter, sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.

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