Monday, October 20, 2008

Dinner tonight... Saffron Risotto with Pan-broiled Fennel Shrimp

Dinner tonight took too long to attempt again on a weeknight. I've made this dish in the past, starting about a decade ago, and so I should have known better. Cleaning and butterflying the shrimp, chopping the vegetables and, most of time-consuming of all, all that stirring, means that this is not a 30-minute meal. More like an hour-plus from start to finish. But as I was planning this week's menu of dinners, I was inspired by the fact that wild-caught shrimp were on sale and by my risotto success from last week. This dish probably cost only about $5 to make, but I'd gladly pay four times that for it in a restaurant because of the amount of effort it takes to make.

That said, if you have a leisurely evening to cook, the end result is really quite amazing. The shrimp, which marinate in a mix of extra virgin olive oil, fennel seed and sambuca, end up tasting divine. And the risotto, which mixes together wine, carrots, celery, onion, tomatoes, chicken broth, parmesan, and a little bit of butter, benefits wonderfully from a pinch of saffron. The golden red threads turn the entire dish a warm yellow and impart a subtle flavor. Top the risotto with the cooked pan-broiled shrimp and you have a meal that is sure to please.

Saffron Risotto with Pan-Broiled Shrimp
From "The $50 Dinner Party Cookbook" by Sally Sampson
Serves 6

For the Fennel Shrimp:
2 tsp. olive oil
1 Tb. Sambuca or Pernod
1 tsp. fennel seed
2 1/2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and butterflied
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

For the Saffron Risotto:
1 Tb. olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, cut into small dice
2 carrots, peeled if desired and cut into small dice
1 celery stalk, cut into small dice
2 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 tsp saffron threads
2 fresh or canned tomatoes, diced
1 cup white wine
9 cups chicken broth
1 Tb. unsalted butter (optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

To marinate the shrimp, place the oil, Sambuca, fennel and shrimp in a mixing bowl and set aside.

To make the risotto: Place a large skillet over medium heat, and when it is hot, add the oil. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook until they are soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add the rice and cook for about 1 minute, stirring until coated. Add the saffron and tomatoes and cook for about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until it has been absorbed, about two minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of broth, stirring constantly until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 18-20 minutes, stirring well after each addition. Do not add more than 8 cups of broth. Add the butter and Parmesan cheese and stir well. Place the remaining 1 cup of broth in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat.

To make the Fennel Shrimp: Remove the shrimp from the marinade, discarding the excess and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and when it is hot, add the shrimp and cook until it turns pink, about 3 minutes.

Just prior to serving, add the boiling broth to the risotto and stir well. Transfer to heated individual shallow bowls and serve immediately. Garnish with the parsley and the Fennel Shrimp.

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