Every spring, my parents travel to Italy. They divide their time between the south and Tuscany, leisurely sightseeing and eating. Last week, my mom wrote me from their rented apartment in Rome around the corner from the Campo dei Fiori. She described their day settling into the city and ended with, “Now I’m making dinner with vegetables from the Campo.” I imagined her sautéing chicory or blanching artichokes while boiling fresh pasta and slicing salami.
It broke my heart to not be there. I wanted to casually choose vegetables with her at the market that fills the Campo dei Fiori every morning. I wanted to get a cappuccino and sit for a few minutes in the sunshine before heading back to the apartment to cook a light lunch, then touring Palatine Hill. Since I could not magically transport myself to Rome, I settled for almost the next best thing and made a big pot of risotto at home.
Risotto is one of my favorite foods to make. It transcends seasons and is 100% customizable. It’s a little fussy, you need to watch over it, but it’s not hard to make. And once you learn the basic recipe – use this recipe but change out the shrimp and asparagus for pretty much anything you want – you can use whatever you have on hand for a delicious dinner. I love to make wild mushroom risottos, chicken and roasted red pepper risottos, or even a simple basil pesto risotto.
You can find arborio rice nearby regular white rice at your supermarket. You do need to use arborio to make risotto—it’s much starchier than regular white rice. The starch from the rice is the backbone of the creaminess of a traditional risotto. Well, that and a bunch of butter.
SHRIMP & ASPARAGUS RISOTTO
4 Tbs olive oil, divided
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and chopped
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, room temperature
3 cups low sodium seafood stock
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
1/2 bunch asparagus, woody bottoms removed, chopped into bite-size pieces
3 Tbs butter
1 cup finely grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium saucepan, heat seafood and chicken stock until warmed through. Keep on a low simmer. You don’t want to “shock” your risotto with cold liquids.
In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbs olive oil over medium heat. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring frequently until shrimp is just pink but not cooked through, about 2-3 minutes. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside.
Add remaining olive oil to pan and heat. Add onions and a sprinkle of salt and saute until translucent, about 7 minutes.
Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
Add the rice to the pan and toast, stirring until the outside of the rice grains are translucent, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the white wine to the pan and simmer until it’s almost completely reduced and absorbed by the rice. When the wine hits the pan, use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits clinging to the bottom.
Working in batches, begin to add the warmed broth to the rice. You’ll want to keep stirring slowly. You can look away for a couple of minutes at the beginning, but if you stray too far you run the risk of burning the bottom. Slowly stir the rice and broth until that batch of broth is mostly absorbed. You’ll know it’s time for the next addition when you can drag your spoon through the rice and leave a little trail of exposed pan behind that will slowly fill in.
With the third addition of broth, add your asparagus and repeat the prior step.
With your last addition of broth, add the shrimp.
Make sure to taste the consistency of your rice. I prefer risotto al dente—with a little bit of tooth to it. If you like smoother, creamier risotto, you might want to have a little extra broth on hand so it can cook a little while longer.
Turn off the heat. Add the butter and parmesan. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
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