Risotto, an Italian rice dish, is generally eaten as a primo (starter), but this recipe is one I developed to be a full meal. Italian Americans often adapted the traditional multi-course Italian meal into one that could be eaten as a single course at the end of a long work day instead of during a long afternoon break. This dish also mixes seafood and cheese, something that many Italians will rage against, but growing up as an Italian American, we often put cheese on seafood dishes, so just think of this as an Italian-American dish and don’t worry about its authenticity. It tastes great and is quite satisfying, so let’s make some seafood risotto.
Other than the exceptions above, this is a standard risotto preparation. Risotto is short-grained rice cooked in broth, usually with some kind of soffritto (chopped and sautéed aromatic vegetables), wine, and butter. Just because we’re not worried about authenticity here doesn’t mean we’re not worried about quality though. Good risotto requires quality rice. Use a quality arborio (superfino) rice that will develop starches and give the dish a richly textured broth.
The broth in this case is fish stock. There are various options for fish stock. You can usually buy it frozen at a fish market, you can make it yourself from fish heads and shrimp shells, or you can use a concentrate. I keep a tub of concentrated fish base in the refrigerator and often use it because it is less expensive than buying stock and it is always available. My one caveat with concentrated base is that it is high in salt, so I tend to mix it just a bit over half-strength. That makes for a less fishy and less salty final dish.
You can vary the seafood, but don’t go over a pound for this recipe or it will be overbearing. I often use half shrimp and half scallops. The method is the same: cook it in butter and then chop before adding it in during the last step of the recipe.
- 2 cups of arborio rice
- 8 cups of fish stock
- 1 lb of shrimp or scallops (1/2 pound of each works well)
- 1 white onion
- 3-4 cups of baby spinach
- 4 oz of quality unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1/3 cup of dry white wine
- 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1.5 cups of grated parmesan or Romano cheese
- Salt (if needed, test after stock and cheese)
- Fresh cracked pepper
- In a large saucepan, sauté pan, or paella pan, sauté the seafood in half the butter. When it's cooked, transfer it to a bowl and let it cool. Be careful not to overcook the seafood.
- Heat the fish stock in a saucepan and leave over low heat.
- Dice the onion and, in the same pan used for the shrimp, sauté it in olive oil until it's translucent. Stir regularly and don't let the onion brown.
- While the onion is cooking steam the spinach until it's just past wilted. Strain and press out the liquid. Set aside to cool.
- Transfer the seafood to a cutting board and chop into coarse pieces. Retain the butter left in the bowl and add the chopped seafood back to the butter.
- Chop the spinach in the same method and transfer back to a bowl.
- When the onion is translucent, push it to the side to clear the center of the pan. Add the rice and stir into the oil and onion.
- Stir the rice into the oil and onion until all the rice is coated in oil. Keep stirring over medium-low heat until the rice starts to crackle and becomes translucent with a white "eye" in each kernel.
- Before the rice starts to brown, add three to four ladles of hot broth and stir.
- Continue stirring every 1-2 minutes until the broth is nearly absorbed and then add another ladle or two of broth.
- Continue stirring and adding broth until the rice is cooked. Risotto, like pasta, is cooked al dente. The rice should be firm in the middle, but not hard. There should be some "broth" left in the pot, but it should not be soupy. You probably will have a small amount of stock left unused.
- Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and cheese.
- Stir in the chopped seafood (including any butter in the bowl) and the chopped spinach.
- Serve in warmed bowls with fresh cracked pepper
- You can make risotto in various types of pots. The pot you choose needs to be large enough to hold the completed recipe with room for stirring and have enough surface area for evaporation. The pot should also be heavy to prevent sticking or burning. I like a pot with rounded sides as pictured.
- The spinach is optional, but makes in a nutritious single-course meal. You can substitute other steamed greens such as kale or chard as well.