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Risotto offers a tender, tasty base for quick meal options

There are several ingredients I always try to keep in the pantry or freezer, especially items I can incorporate into a quick meal. With the air conditioner not working, I could stand a few minutes at the stove next to the open window, but things had to move swiftly. Watching the trees in the backyard sway in the late-afternoon breeze gave me time to assemble risotto with skewered shrimp.

One of the recipes that never demands I consult a cookbook is risotto, which is ready to serve in 18 minutes. Unlike traditional boiled rice, where you combine rice with a measure of water in a tight-lidded pan, risotto begins with a wide pan in which you melt butter along with some olive oil. The type of risotto rice most commonly used in this country is called Arborio, a short-grain, starchy variety.

Once the butter is melted and swirled with the olive oil, add the minced allium of choice (onion, green onion, shallot, leek or garlic). When the pieces are translucent, stir in one cup of rice and cook it until you can see the signature dot in the center of each of the grains. Toss in some salt and deglaze the pan with a glug of dry white wine. Once the liquid has evaporated, add your herb (tarragon is my favorite, but any fragrant herb will do).

Now you’re ready for the repeated process of adding a half-cup of broth, cooking until it’s absorbed, then adding another, until the texture of the rice is tender yet still firm (al dente), neither too hard nor too soft. The final step is adding in a knob of butter and Parmesan cheese; then you cover it and wait a few minutes before serving. When you remove the lid from the pan, the rice is tender, fragrant and ready to eat. This occurs just as the 18-minute timer rings.

In the dish we made (see photo), we used the risotto as a delicious bed for skewered shrimp. These were my freezer-compartment standby, thawed in just a few minutes under running water. After threading them onto the skewers, I spread a small puddle of olive oil on a foil-lined baking pan. Next, I rolled the shrimp in the oil, then sprinkled them with an herb mixture such as Italian seasoning blend or Penzey’s Sandwich Sprinkle, and they were ready to go.

These can cook very quickly under the broiler, on the grill or in a grill pan stovetop, whichever you prefer. Remember that you’ll only need to cook the shrimp for about 3 minutes on each side; any more than that and you’ll end up with something more rubbery than tender. I used the broiler for the dish in the photo, also adding tomato halves topped with buttery bread crumbs.

Depending on your cooking style and flavor preferences, your pantry stock may differ, but we keep organic frozen shrimp, chicken stock, rice (several kinds), tomatoes, onions and olive oil in plentiful supply. I’ve been using the home-delivery service from Marsh Creek Cattle & Company, which keeps me well stocked with ground beef and eggs. I also try to have their bacon on hand for breakfast and their minute steaks for speedy tacos or fajitas.

We went to the Saturday farmers market at the new elementary school, but arrived to find so much had already sold out. With the opening of the Historic Lewes Farmers Market at Crooked Hammock on Wednesday, I’m looking forward to some baby bok choi and tender lettuce, the former to add to a speedy stir-fry seasoned with ginger and the latter for a salad bowl topped with grilled chicken.

Tarragon & Parmesan Risotto

1 T unsalted butter

1 T olive oil

1 minced shallot

1 C Arborio rice

1/2 t salt

1/3 C white wine

1 t dried tarragon

3C chicken broth

2 oz grated Parmesan

1 T butter

Combine butter and olive oil in a heavy pan; melt butter and swirl together over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook until the small dot in the center of each grain becomes visible. Add salt and deglaze the pan with wine. When liquid has evaporated, add tarragon and 1/2 C broth. Cook, stirring often, until liquid is absorbed. Repeat until rice is al dente, about 15 minutes. Stir in cheese and butter; cover and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving. Yield: 4 servings.

Shrimp Skewers

1 lb peeled, deveined shrimp

1 T olive oil

1t seasoning blend

Preheat broiler or barbecue grill to high. Thread shrimp onto the skewers through the thickest part of the tail, making sure to go through the flesh in two places. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil. Pour in the olive oil and rub the skewers through it to coat the shrimp. Arrange the skewers in a single layer and sprinkle with seasoning blend on both sides. Broil or grill until pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes on each side.

Broiled Tomatoes

1 lb Campari tomatoes

1 T melted butter

2 T seasoned bread crumbs

Preheat broiler. Halve the tomatoes and arrange on a foil-lined baking sheet, cut side up. Combine the butter and bread crumbs; top each tomato with a dollop of the bread crumb mixture. Broil until tender, about 7 to 8 minutes.

Send comments, questions or recipe ideas to capeflavors@comcast.net.

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