Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Neapolitan's seafood risotto

Let's tackle the bad news first. A succulent risotto requires a home-made broth. You might, with lots of practice and a few tricks, achieve a decent risotto using the cubes tauted by various food companies as perfectly acceptable, time-saving alternatives to home-made broth. But friends, don't be fooled. That's just good marketing.

In each cuisine, there are dishes that, for a reason or another, require just a bit more commitment. Sadly for those of us who love it, risotto is one of them. And yes, I agree, all that careful ladling and stirring in of the broth is painstainking. But risotto is like that rare breed of teacher that demands nothing less than your unwavering attention. Blink, yawn, scribble on your desk and you're on the black list, you've just screwed up your risotto.

This recipe comes from my husband. No big surprise there considering I hardly ever ate fish until I met him, and then only under duress. A word of caution: I would recommend finding a reasonably-priced fishmonger before you attempt this risotto. I don't want any of you going into cardiac arrest when they see the bill. We spent about 10 pounds on the ingredients at our local market, but at a fancy fishmonger, it could easily be triple that. In Northwest London we have found the two stalls at the Saturday-morning market on Church Street to be a good source. Don't be put off by appearances. You won't find pretty parsley and lemon slices on display there. But the fish is fresh.

And if you don't trust us, trust the Neapolitan's mother. She accompanied us two weeks ago and after careful examination of the goods on display --you would think she was buying diamonds, checking clarity of the eye, shine of the scales, color of the flesh--she nodded imperceptibly and proclaimed it edible. There is no stricter test I know of. No respectable Italian mamma, after all, would risk her first born's intestinal health in pursuit of a bargain.

You can use frozen seafood for this recipe, obviously, but remember that squid and shrimps can get a bit chewy when they stay on the heat for too long so add them towards the end. My shrimps weren't very large, as you can see from the photo, but tiger ones would work well too.

Home-made fish broth
Bones of a whole fish
Celery stalk

Any time you cook a whole fish, plop everything that's left after eating it, including head, tail and bits of skin into a large pan of water with some garlic cloves and a stalk of celery if you have it. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour.

Seafood risotto
500g (just
over one pound) shrimp
3 squids

Home-made fish broth
325g (11 ounces) risotto rice (I use Arborio from the Riso Gallo brand)
2 onions
Dry white wine
Olive oil

First, clean the seafood. I bet it's not your favorite task, rest assured it isn't mine either. But it needs to be done. Take the head and tail off your shrimps, get rid of the eggs under their bellies, if any, and peel off the shell. Rinse the squids and slice relatively thinly, about the thickness of a large wedding band.

Heat about three tablespoons of olive oil in your pan, stir in two cloves or garlic and the two onions chopped thin. Sweat on a low heat until the onions are translucent. Take out the garlic clove. Throw in the squid and the shrimps and let them flavor the oil for a few minutes. Pour in a glass of white wine and turn up the heat. Add salt and pepper.

Put the rice in and gradually add your fish broth with a ladle, waiting for the liquid to be absorbed between each ladle. Continue until the rice is cooked but al dente (you want the rice to retain a slight bite) and the texture is very creamy. It should take around 20 minutes. When the rice is ready, transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle with fresh parsley.

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