Shrimp and Zucchini Risotto

Debi and I very often look at each other and say: “We need to go out, We need to have a fantastic dinner and celebrate ourselves, our Love!”. Then we pause.We smile and we say: “Nahhh, what do we make for dinner?”

Do not get me wrong, we love getting out of the house, indulge in a meal that for once is served to us, cooked by others, drink some good wine and then come home to a clean kitchen… no dishes to be done, the kids possibly asleep. Then strip our clothes off and keep on celebrating. Truth is, it does not happen that often. Debi and I go out, but for the most part is for work events, which means that the food is usually below our expectations… unless we go visit friends, and that for the most part happens to be a family affair where the daughters come along and get to enjoy some time out of the house as well.

The most romantic dinners we have as a couple are the ones that we have at home… in our comfort zone. Not to mention that by staying in, we do not have to drive back to our nest, and we can afford to drink a couple of glasses more…. no cops between my dining room and my alcove! We get to choose our menu, the wine we like, and if we really decide not to loose to much time, well, we can leave the dishes in the sink and start loosing our clothes on the way to bed…

And this is exactly what we will be doing this evening!

We will rent a movie for the kids and treat them to a TV dinner, while we set up our dining room, and make it as romantic as we can! We will buy flowers, we will uncork a bottle (or two) of one of our favorite wine, play some old school Bossa Nova from the 50s’, and make it a memorable evening. We will start cooking our dinner as the kids enjoy theirs, and after they eventually (finally) get in bed, we will sit down in front of each other, and bless the day we met… the day I looked at her, after a three hours conversation and I told her: “You are so cool, wanna have kids with me?”.

For this Valentine’s day we wanted to invite you to stay at home, skip the pre-packaged restaurant menu, avoid the surcharges and the last minute hustle of reserving a table in your favorite restaurant… and if your nanny is not available (mine bluntly told me “Sorry Gabriel, I am getting laid!”), do not despair, here is a recipe easy and tasty that will help you create the perfect Valentine’s Evening.

Tonight we drank a bottle of Santa Margherita, a wonderful Pinot Grigio from Trentino. It is not the driest Pinot you can find, but I believe that its very saddle sweetness is a perfect match for this recipe.

Thank you for joining us, once again, in our kitchen!!!

INGREDIENTI

Serves: 4 / Prep Time: 20 min / Cook Time: 35 - 45 min (depending on the kind of rice)

1/2 lb Acquerello Rice (or other risotto rice)
3/4 lb Fresh Shrimps (or frozen)
5 Zucchini
3 Shallots
1 Handful Fresh Parsley
1 cup Dry White Wine (for the rice)
1/4 cup Dry White Wine (for the shrimps)
4 cups Vegetable Broth
2 tbsp of Butter
freshly grated Parmigiano (optional)
Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper
1

Rinse well the Zucchini, slice them lengthwise in six parts, then chop them in small cubes. Set aside.

2

Remove the shell from the shrimps (if you use frozen ones you do not need to clean them), and with a short pointy knife remove the two veins. To remove the top vein gently slice the back of the shrimp, about 1/4 inch deep and then with the point of the knife dig it out. For the bottom one, which is usually easier, just hold the shrimp firmly in your hand and use the same technique; no need to cut the shrimp, as the bottom vein is very easy to reach below the skin. Imagine removing a seam from some clothing, which is something I have to do very often, as my daughters are always bitching out about t-shirt tags scratching their back… no, it is not enough if I just decide to cut the tags with scissors, they want me to perform surgery, and it usually happens at 8 am, when we are already getting late from school. After cleaning the shrimps rinse them well under running fresh water, than set aside.

3

Peel the shallots and chop them very fine.

4

Heat up the Vegetable Broth, and when it comes to a gentle boil reduce the flame to a minimum to keep it warm.

5

In a large non stick pan, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and on a medium-high flame and cook the zucchini for about 15 minutes. I do not cook the zucchini with the risotto, as they would get too soft; by sautéing them on a higher flame I am able to achieve a different texture, and I like it much better when added to the rice on a second moment.

6

In a smaller skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. When the butter is melted add the shrimps, season them with salt and pepper, add about 3/4 of the chopped parsley and about 1/4 cup of white wine. Cook on a medium flame for about 5 minutes, and when they turn bright pink remove from the heat and set aside. Do not discard the juice.

7

In the third, and last skillet (a large one), sauté the shallots in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter for about 3 minutes on a medium-high flame, then add the risotto rice, stir well. Pour the White Wine, and mix well to the rice, reduce the flame to a medium-low simmer and let the alcohol evaporate for about 3-5 minutes.

8

From now on the only thing you need is patience. Stir the rice constantly, do not get distracted and let it dry, otherwise you will kill you recipe. Every now and then, as the liquid gets absorbed add the vegetable broth, one ladle at the time. Yes, you can pick up a phone call, no you cannot go give your kids a bath!

9

Risotto's cooking time only depends on the brand that you are using, and the specific kind of grain you are working with. My favorite risotto rice is Acquerello Rice, and organic grain from Vercelli, in Northern Italy. It is aged one year, and it offers a trull fantastic bite, its texture is phenomenal. Nothing pisses me off more than eating a risotto that feels like a soup. If I wanted soup I would make one. Risotto has to feel soft but with a real grip, and Acquerello delivers it every time. As the risotto is "growing" while absorbing the broth, season it with Salt and Pepper to taste.

10

If like me, you like to add a little punch to it, a bit more presence, add a couple of tablespoons of freshly grated Parmigiano. Not everybody considers adding cheese to a fish recipe a proper "move", but I believe it gives my dish some richness that I can feel on the back of my palate. However, never, ever use the Parmigiano as a dressing for your dish before serving it, especially if you are dining with Italians, their eyeballs will fall of their sockets!

11

About 20-25 minutes into the cooking, as your vegetable broth is basically finished, start tasting the rice, and feel its consistency. If it needs more time on the stove you can ladle in some warm water to keep it going a few minutes more. If you have done everything right though, this is the moment to add the Zucchini and the Shrimps; the sauce from the Shrimps will help the risotto gain the final 5 minutes of cooking time without the need of any additional water.

12

Serve dressed with a sprinkle of the remaining chopped parsley and a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.