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Maine Shrimp Risotto with Pancetta, Roasted Leeks and Garlic

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: "'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
olive oil
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.


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Your readers might also complain if you told them they first had to make the pancetta... but it's worth it!

I really must get over my inane fear of leeks. I try to grow them every couple of years from seed (telling myself that this will force me to learn to use them) but I always fail miserably. I suppose if I saw some gorgeous ones for sale at a farmers' market. . . but that probably won't happen around here, LOL.

Always glad to read another one of your posts. Best to you and E!

P.S. That farm life winter image about cross-country skiing and then kicking back for the rest of the day? Um, not exactly like that. . . There's also a lot of firewood lifting involved, plus some other stuff. . . : )

There are countless sources for quick and easy cooking. Rachael Ray comes to mind

Don t change your style!!!!

I love the look of the relative soup-iness of the risotto, will aim for it with my next one! (I'm a risotto newbie ... even though it's been cooked IN my house a lot, I've never been the one stirring.)

First of all, the only thing that makes it ridiculous is that we live in a world of fast food and "convenience" foods. So it IS easy to get food on the table in a hurry, and that's OK. But for those of us who actually ENJOY cooking, who are as fascinated by the relationship of tastes as a painter is by color relationships, your approach is nothing if not fascinating.

I love your thinking! Your approach to your larder is exactly the same as mine. That way, if your fancy takes you to a curry, you don't have to dash out for mustard seeds or turmeric.

This recipe looks so good, there's no question that I'll try it. And the photography is so good, I wanted to bite into my screen!

Some times I prefer quick and easy meals especially during the week due to work and family commitments. On the weekends when we have time we like to take our time and work with more involved recipes. There is clearly balance and room for both approaches.

I enjoy reading a variety of blogs and the time taken in your dishes is one of the things I enjoy about reading yours.

Stick to your guns, my friend. I admit to some severe culinary envy when I read your blog but I comfort myself with the knowledge that my children will someday leave for college (if we survive middle school). I do wish you could send some stock my way because despire my best intentions, that never seems to get made. Fortunately, there's a wonderful Vietnemese restaurant that is my occasional, secret supplier.

Yikes, people are complaining because of these things?! Read it or dont people, move on if you need a shorter recipe, go to Rachel Ray (she seems to have it covered).

Its hard for me to get this attitude.. I am the sort that likes to look at recipes like I might read a book. Larousse's Gastronomie was amazing to read, Rachel Ray would likely not be cooking anything out of that.

Stephen - cook on my friend.

Looking forward to meeting you in March in Boston.


Wow that sounds amazing! You know what you are doing! Some people get some don't. I'm net to this blog this I have one. If you have the time. Good work!

cook on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I really, really wanted to put my fork through the computer screen: gorgeous photo!

Stephen - This blog is meant to be a reflection of your cooking style, your preferences. There are enough other sources for those who want quick and easy forays into the kitchen. What you infer with your blog is that it is really difficult to have really satisfying depth of flavor in under 20 minutes with so-so ingredients. Your blog is a dream...don't go changing on us, mate!

I googled risotto, shrimp and pancetta (because it sounded good, but I had no idea how to make it). Well, your recipe came up and it is fantastic! Thanks. You gotta love the internet - from your kitchen in Maine to my tiny one in Brooklyn.

I made this last night and it was great! Thanks for this recipe and any recipe that is complex due to a myriad of odd ingredients.

I had to use a fish broth substitute so I tried 1 tsp Asian fish sauce (which i always have and never goes bad) to 1 cup veggie broth.

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