Tint it with tomatoes, spice it up with curry, season it with delicate herbs or pack it with the punch of hot sausage. Almost any ingredient you add yields a winning recipe for risotto--the most famous rice dish of northern Italy.
Made from imported short-grain rice grown in Italy's northernmost regions, risotto is characterized by a thick, soupy texture achieved by continuous stirring while liquid is slowly added. There are hundreds of traditional risotto preparations, as well as infinite possibilities for inventive combinations.
Risotto is normally served as a first course in Italy. However, very substantial risotti (such as the shrimp and curry version below)--like pasta or a very hearty soup--are suitable for the main course of an informal dinner.
Although risotto does require last-minute cooking, the entire dish needs only 30 minutes of active working time and the finishing technique is easily mastered.
You'll need a package of imported short-grain rice (the best known and most available varieties are arborio and carnaroli), which may be purchased at a specialty food store or the gourmet section of a fine supermarket. Garlic, onions and two quarts of broth are the other basic ingredients.
Garlic and onions are chopped in less than 30 seconds, using the food processor's metal blade. To effectively mince such a small amount of garlic, the cloves should be dropped into the empty machine with the motor running. Mincing occurs as the lightweight garlic pieces bounce off the bottom of the machine and the spinning blades. Onions are then added to the container for chopping.
Timing is important for risotto. It must be served immediately or the texture will be sticky rather than creamy. To avoid overcooking, follow timing directions carefully and be sure that serving dishes--and the guests--are ready and waiting.
This recipe, which calls for partially cooking risotto in a covered pot, uses a technique acquired in a Milanese restaurant specializing in risotto which permits the rice to be started in advance and set aside. Note that cheese has not been used in this dish--traditionally, Italians do not mix cheese into rice and pasta dishes that contain fish.
2 quarts fish or chicken stock
1 pound medium shrimp in shells
2 cloves garlic
2 small onions, cubed
6 tablespoons butter
1 pound Italian short grain rice (arborio or carnaroli)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
Place broth in large non-aluminum saucepan. Peel shrimp and add shells to broth. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Strain and return broth to pan. Devein shrimp, rinse and refrigerate.
Insert metal blade in processor. Mince garlic by dropping through food chute with machine running. Add onions and process with 1-second pulses until finely chopped.
Combine onions, garlic and butter in large, deep skillet and stir over medium heat until onions are tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat and add rice. Stir until grains turn milky white, about 3 minutes. Add wine, heat to simmering and stir until wine evaporates, about 3 to 4 minutes longer.
Add half strained broth, curry and turmeric. Heat liquid to simmering, cover and simmer rice over low heat 10 minutes. Uncover and stir well. Rice will be very thick and partially cooked. (Can be spread on foil-lined baking sheet to cool, covered with buttered foil and set aside as long as 6 hours.)
Add 1/2 cup hot broth to rice. (Heat cool rice to slow simmer.) Maintaining slow simmer, add broth in 1/2-cup batches and stir constantly to achieve thick, soupy texture. Add more broth only as it is absorbed by rice until 1/2 cup broth remains (usually about 8 minutes).
Stir in shrimp and remaining broth. Taste, adding salt and curry powder as desired. Stir over very low heat until shrimp are just cooked and rice grains are tender throughout but still firm, about 2 to 4 minutes longer. Adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately by ladling risotto into warm soup bowls. Makes 6 to 8 servings.