While whiling away the minutes trying to decide what to add next, I was reminded of how much my love for cooking has evolved over the last five years, and I am forced to admit that I learned most of what I know from the Food Network, which really ended up setting off my own experimentation. It started slowly, in about 2003, when I started grad school and began watching Rachael Ray and Emeril on short breaks from the copious reading packets, progressed to Giada DeLaurentis, then Tyler Florence and Barefoot Contessa....ever learning more advanced culinary methods. I now enjoy Iron Chef America, Chopped, and Secrets of a Restaurant Chef (where else are you going to learn how to make a semifreddo?!)
I remember a distinct time in 2003 or 2004 when I watched Emeril LeGasse make a mushroom risotto....though the idea of making such a dish was daunting, I was ready to give it a try. I'm sure it took me about twice as long as was necessary, but the risotto was the best thing I'd ever tasted (back then). I credit that experience with much of my love for cooking (and my particular love for the combination of sauce and carbohydrates...a likely theme joining many of the recipes in this blog).
I realize this all seems a little overdramatic, but learning to make a risotto is an important corner to turn when learning to cook; it requires patience, teaches you about the science of the ingredients, and once you understand the method, the taste possibilities are really endless.
Below is the recipe for a risotto that I made for my parents, aunt and uncle, and friends when I visited home last year. Remember that it's just a method (toast arborio rice in fat, stir in liquid(s) slowly until the rice has softened, add any additional flavors (at varying points in the cooking process), serve!), so customize however you like!
This particular recipe benefits from several different flavors, the most important of which, I've actually discovered, is the acidity of the tomato. It's a great balance for the seafood and adds tremendous depth of flavor next to the wine and parmesan cheese. There is no substitute for the coolness of the goat cheese atop the finished dish. I also realized recently the wonder of fresh peas (rather than frozen....I'm never willing to entertain canned peas even as an option).
Risotto with Shrimp, Peas and Mushrooms
2 cups arborio rice
1/4 cup pinot grigio (or other white wine)
4 cups seafood stock
4 cups chicken stock
1 can died tomatoes
1 lb peeled deveined shrimp
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
3/4 cup fresh peas, blanched in salty water until nearly soft
3/4 cup fresh mushrooms, cut into chunks (cut twice each direction)
2 large shallots, peeled, halved and sliced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
6 tbsp butter
1/4-1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
crumbled goat cheese (for garnish)
Mix together seafood stock and chicken stock in a separate saucepan and heat to a near simmer.
Melt the butter in a dutch oven and add garlic and shallots, a large pinch of kosher salt and 20 grinds of black pepper and saute until soft. Add shrimp, cooking until just opaque and remove with tongs to a separate bowl (try to leave shallots and garlic in pan). Add peas and mushrooms and saute until soft. Add arborio rice and toast for about 2 minutes in the butter and vegetable mixture, stirring frequently.
Once rice is toasted, deglaze the pan with white wine and stir. It will bubble off quickly. Pour in the entire can of diced tomatoes (including liquid) and add tarragon. Stir until liquid is mostly gone. Add the stock, ladle by ladle, stirring after each ladle or two, cooking until the liquid is mostly gone each time. Keep repeating, stirring very frequently, until the rice is soft, always keeping the pot at a simmer.
Once rice is soft, add parsley, cooked shrimp and parmesan, stirring until heated through. Serve in bowls, garnished with crumbled goat cheese.