Maine Shrimp Risotto with Pancetta, Roasted Leeks and Garlic
A lot of my readers have complained, or at least noted, that my recipes have long lists of ingredients and require time-consuming procedures like slow-roasting or broth-making, and to this charge I plead guilty as charged. This site is the kitchen diary of a cook for whom cooking is a continuous process, which means that I collect a larder full of interesting ingredients I might want to use someday, I jump on fresh seasonal ingredients when they are available, and I use trimmings and leftovers to make broth for later use. I don't plan too much, so when I cook a meal I'm usually just responding to the set of ingredients I have available and my mood at the time, and the recipes here record the results of this process.
I understand that, viewed from the point of view of a person who just wants to put good food on the table in a reasonable amount of time, these recipes could seem ridiculous. And sometimes, when I think about it, the amount of time I put into cooking seems a bit ridiculous to me, too. But on balance, it's a satisfying way of life for me, and this blog is a record of that life, or at least the food part. I appreciate readers who like reading about my explorations, and at the same time I understand that, if it's 7:00 and you're cruising for an idea for dinner tonight -- a very typical and totally understandable situation in today's busy life -- you're not likely to find much help here.
That said, this risotto is fairly typical of the way dishes develop in my kitchen. I had the idea to make a risotto with roasted leeks and garlic a few days ago, but Elise was in a lighter mood and asked for a big salad that night. Since it takes almost no effort, I roasted the leeks and garlic anyway while I made the salad and we ate, so they'd be ready to be used for another meal. Then, just before making this meal I was in the market and saw a big pile of fresh Maine shrimp on ice and decided that they'd tuck in with the leeks and garlic nicely. The choice of liquid to use in making risotto is key, as most of the flavor comes from the broth, so the container of red shrimp broth in the freezer was the perfect choice. (I freeze bags of shells and shrimp heads -- and fish heads and beef trimmings and chicken necks, etc. -- when I have them and then when the freezer space situation gets dire I make broth.) The oregano and pancetta were last-minute decisions because they were available and seemed to add some depth to the dish.
This little moment of introspection comes because as I was writing out the recipe it occurred to me that readers would think it's slightly insane, taking all this time to make a bowl of rice, so I thought I'd acknowledge that. Just to tempt you into considering making this dish, however, I have to mention that the combination of pancetta, roasted leeks, roasted garlic and fresh Maine shrimp with the creamy risotto was near perfection. E's comment: "...it's complex and interesting but subtle at the same time..." Nothing shouts in this recipe, but everything plays a part....and makes it all worthwhile. I served it with a simple salad, a few ciabatta slices and a bottle of pinot grigio.
Maine Shrimp Risotto with Pancetta, Roasted Leeks and Garlic
Serves 4 - 6, depending on what else is being served.
1 lb fresh Maine shrimp, cleaned (or other available small shrimp)
3 slices lemon
1 T dried dill
1-1/2 T salt
2 slices pancetta, trimmed, 1/4" rough dice
2 cups arborio rice
4 C red shrimp broth or other fish broth
1/2 C dry white wine
1 head garlic, unpeeled
8 - 10" leek, white or light green parts only
3 T butter
1 oz Parmigiana Reggiano, shredded
2 tsp fresh oregano, minced
Cut leek section in half crosswise and then cut one of the pieces in half again, vertically this time. Wash carefully, dry, and toss with some olive oil. Place in an ovenproof bowl or dish. Place the garlic head in the center of a piece of foil, drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and wrap the foil up around the head, crimping to seal. Roast the leeks and the garlic in a 350º oven about 45 minutes, tossing the leek leaves occasionally if you think of it. The leeks will be charred at the edges. Allow to cool. Chop the leeks roughly and set aside. Cut the garlic head in half through the middle of the cloves and use a knife or spatula to squeeze out the softened garlic. Discard the garlic shell and place the roasted garlic paste in a bowl and set aside.
Rinse the shrimp. Place 6 cups of water in a saucepan and add 1-1/2 tablespoons of salt, the dill and the lemon slices. Bring the water to a boil, add the shrimp and cook for 60 seconds. Drain in a colander or sieve and spray with cold water to stop cooking. Discard the lemon slices and reserve shrimp.
Cut the other piece of leek in half vertically, rinse and then cut crosswise into 1/4" half rounds.
Place the broth and the wine in a saucepan on low heat.
Place 1 tablespoon of olive oil in your risotto pot over medium high heat. Add the pancetta and sauté, stirring, a few minutes until the edges start to crisp. Add the leek half-rounds and 1 tablespoon butter and continue to sauté a few more minutes until the leeks start to soften. Add the rice and sauté another couple of minutes, stirring, until the rice turns milky white. Add 2 cups of the broth mixture and cook, stirring, at a low simmer. Add more liquid as it is absorbed (you may need to add some water to the liquid as you go). After about 15-20 minutes, taste the rice: it is done when it is just al dente without being chalky at the center. Add the shrimp (reserving a few for garnish), the chopped roasted leeks (reserve some for garnish) and the garlic. Stir gently until the risotto is done. Add another cup of broth, 2 tablespoons of butter and the shredded cheese. Stir gently until the butter has melted.
Serve immediately, spooning rice with a slotted spoon into a mound in the center of a shallow soup plate and then, with a regular spoon, dribble some of the liquid from the risotto pot in a moat around the mound. Sprinkle on some minced oregano and garnish with a few shrimp and pieces of the chopped leek.