It’s lemons and clam nectar that I’d like to put on the table, or to be more exact, into a pot of bubbling risotto. If you’ve never made risotto before, it might be time. Perfectly beautiful winter food it is, here are a couple of really simple ways to change it up.
Lemons. It’s a stretch to call them local here in the Pacific Northwest, though California is part of my local circle when it comes to a few things. California olive oil, for example, is wonderful and far more local than Italy or Spain’s. Compared to South America or Florida, California’s my backyard. Clam nectar, on the other hand, is of the PNW. We know grey and rain, beaches, tides and clamming. Lemons, clam nectar, together or separately, they create a risotto that’s so seafood worthy it’s ridiculous.
And this is slow food that’s actually a pretty efficient meal. Prep the rice, broth, shallot, a little wine, the lemon and possibly small pieces of seafood in 10 or 15 minutes, and then . . . thirty minutes of meditation in the company of a glass of wine and some music or conversation or John Stewart while stirring the pot.
While my husband cooked salmon and made salad the other night, I got the risotto going and decided to play around. Nothing complicated, just some lemon zest and juice stirred into the pot along with chicken stock and Arborio rice, finished with plenty of pepper or lemon pepper if you have it. Served with a piece of Loki grilled salmon on top, and a pinch of fresh dill, it was amazing. But then I’m the person that almost can’t eat fish without a squeeze of lemon. For me it was a no-brainer.
Use clam nectar combined with some water and/or tomato juice as the liquid for risotto making. Again, use lemon zest and juice if you like, and when the rice is just done or almost add a handful of clams, B.C. shrimp, or both, bite-sized pieces of halibut or salmon. Stirred into the simmering risotto, it will take the seafood just a few minutes to cook. Finish with a big dollop of butter if you like, another squeeze of lemon juice and some cilantro, parsley or dill. Brilliant, as Jamie Oliver would say.
* I used the zest – finely chopped – and the juice of one lemon for cooking 2 cups of Arborio rice in chicken stock, about 6 cups including some water, stirred in a little at a time. I ended up with four lemon-infused cups of creamy deliciousness. Some of the lemon juice and zest were added at the beginning, the rest at the very end of cooking. Stir in butter before serving if you like, even a little cream.
* Instead of stock or plain water, clam nectar can be combined with water or tomato juice for the cooking liquid. Add small pieces of seafood when risotto is almost done and cook for just a few minutes. For 2 cups of Arborio rice about 6 cups of simmering liquid will be needed, making about 4 servings.
The general idea. That is to say, this will get you started with risotto. Ingredients are limitless.
Prep: Finely chop 1 medium shallot, 2 – 3 T/ Zest one lemon and chop finely/ Cut lemon in half for squeezing/ Measure 1/4 C white wine (optional)/ 2 T butter/ 1 t salt and pepper or lemon pepper to taste/ Measure 2 C Arborio rice/ Bring 6 cups of liquid to a light simmer – this can be plain water, any broth, clam juice, tomato juice, or a combination/ Pieces of seafood like clams, halibut, salmon, shrimp – which are optional, can be chopped into bite-sized pieces in advance, or while rice is cooking/ Add pieces of almost any vegetable – some will need to be par-boiled or sautéed before adding about mid-way through cooking time/ I like to add rehydrated wild mushrooms and their broth, chopped kale or chard, thin spears of asparagus when in season.
After prep proceed to cook Aroborio rice in the usual way until it becomes the creamy Risotto we know and love: Sauté shallot in butter for just a few seconds/ Add 2 C of rice and cook together for 1 minute/ Add wine and cook until it nearly disappears, another minute or so/ Season lightly now with salt & pepper, and adjust when risotto is nearly finished/ Add about half of the lemon zest and juice/ Stir in simmering liquid 1/2 C at a time until it just covers the rice/ Allow rice to simmer, uncovered, with occasional stirring until broth has ‘disappeared’ into the rice, then add more liquid until rice is barely covered again and stir/ Proceed in this manner until rice is tender and creamy, about half an hour/ Heat up additional broth or water if a little more is needed/ When rice is tender or nearly so, adjust seasoning, add seafood, if any, and the rest of the lemon/ Cook just a few more minutes until seafood is done/ I like risotto ‘juicy’ so I stop cooking while there’s still plenty of liquid present/ Optional: stir in 2 T of butter/ Garnish with fresh herbs like cilantro, dill or parsley, a slice of lemon.
If you’d like a subtle lemon flavor, cut the amount of zest and juice in half, add more if needed. Sometimes I add a little cream, which is against the rules for classic Risotto, but hey, I’m fooling around. It’s allowed. And it tastes realllly good.
*Getting to Know Risotto, a basic recipe.
Next I’m going to make risotto with last summer’s preserved tomato sauce. I’ll add 2 cups of water or broth, maybe more, to a quart of sauce until it becomes a thinnish liquid of 6 or 7 cups. I’ll use that for broth and add it, simmering, to the rice a little at a time – as it is with risotto-making. Parmesan and a touch of cream at the end, I think it’ll be delicious. But then last summer’s tomato sauce is culinary magic. I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t be enhanced by its presence. The thing is to not be afraid to mess around, especially with flavors that you know have already won your heart.
First time for risotto? Follow a recipe. The particular cooking technique is important.
A Bon Appetit Lemon Risotto recipe via Epicurious.com.
It’s nearly Imbolc, February 2nd, Ground Hog’s Day, halfway to spring. As if to underscore that point our very old yet vigorous rhubarb plant in the backyard is doing its normal late-January thing, bursting through its own mulch with hot pink nubs of new life.