June 21, 2011

In Season: Risotto with Spot Prawns and Asparagus

Seasons are fleeting.  And so their bounty is all the more precious for being so ephemeral.  Two of my favourites, spot prawns and asparagus, are already towards the end of their peak.  And although it's true that a good fishmonger will have frozen spot prawns throughout the year (Fisherfolk for example), and that asparagus is a staple in every grocery store year round, it's in season goods that I crave.  The perfect dish to showcase fresh spot prawns and asparagus so tender that you can eat the whole stalk?  A delicious al dente risotto, ready in minutes and savoured slowly.  As summer offically starts, this may be the last weekend to make this wonderful dish.

Risotto with Spot Prawns and Asparagus
serves two

A note on the recipe:  Whenever we cook shrimp, I save the shells and freeze them.  They make an excellent base for a delicious shrimp-flavoured broth that adds depth to soups and dishes such as this.  If you do not have shells available, increase the amount of chicken stock to 4 cups and skip steps two and three of the recipe.

8-10 oz fresh spot prawns
2 tbsp each lemon juice and lemon olive oil or extra virgin olive oil*
Shells from 2 lbs shrimp
2 c water
½ tsp salt
2 small carrots
4 small stalks celery, preferably from the tender heart
1 large shallot, peeled and halved
2 tbsp olive oil
2 oz pancetta, minced
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into ½ inch pieces**
1½ c Arborio rice
½ c white wine
2-3 c chicken stock

*We love Olivers and Co.'s Lemon Specialty Olive Oil for its bright taste and unique flavour. It's terrific on salads with a little balsamic and salt and pepper. Use regular extra virgin olive oil if lemon flavoured oil is not available.

**If you've got your hands on really fresh asparagus, don't snap the ends off - simply trim the tough outer skin at the bottom of the stalk and use the whole darn thing. 

1. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil and shrimp in a small bowl and marinate.  Proceed with shrimp broth while shrimp are marinating.

For shrimp broth:

2.  Combine shrimp shells, water and salt and bring to boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Strain shells, reserving liquid in the pan.

3.  Bring the liquid to a boil, adding the carrot, celery and shallot, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Cool slightly.  Puree broth to incorporate carrot, celery and shallot thoroughly.  Set aside and proceed with recipe.

4.  To cook shrimp, grill or broil with their shells until just cooked through.  Cool slightly, peel and set aside.

5.  Heat chicken broth and keep to slow simmer over low heat.  In a separate pot, heat shrimp broth and keep to slow simmer over low heat.

6.  Mince remaining carrot, shallot and celery.  Heat olive oil over medium heat, add vegetables and pancetta, cook for two minutes, until vegetables are slightly translucent and pancetta sizzling. Add rice and sautĂ© for a further two minutes or until rice is well coated.

7.  Add white wine and stir until wine is absorbed. A cup or so at a time, and alternating between the pureed shrimp broth and chicken stock, add the liquid to the rice, ensuring that the liquid is thoroughly absorbed before adding more liquid.  This step should take about 20 minutes; your goal is to have rice that is firm (al dente) in the centre but tender.

It's worth taking a moment and hearing from Marcella Hazan on how much liquid to use in risotto:
The quantity of liquid given [in a risotto recipe] should be considered an approximate amount.  You may end up using less or slightly more than indicated, but this is not significant.  There are too many variables involved to be able to establish a "correct" amount of liquid.  What is important is never to cook risotto with too much liquid at one time, and to bring it to its final tender but firm-to-the-bite stage so that it is creamy but not saturated.
8.  Ladle the finished risotto into shallow serving bowls and garnish with the cooked spot prawns.  And there you have it. A beautiful spring-into-summer dish full of seasonal goodness.