Ah, risotto… is there anything more comforting than a big plate of warm, creamy, starchy goodness? The other night I was craving risotto and knew I wanted to include some shrimp and scallops that had been hanging around the freezer, but I wanted to take it to the next level and try something a little different. Typical me, I had bought some saffron several months ago without any specific recipe in mind, and it has sat on my spice shelf ever since, making me feel guilty. Now was the time to delve into that precious little vial! (I have since come to the realization that spices as an impulse purchase, even with the best of intentions, is not such a smart idea.) I consulted the Flavor Bible to see what other flavors might be viable- I wanted to compliment the saffron, not compete or cover it up. I was thinking something citrus, and finally settled on citrus zest with the notion that straight-up lemon juice would be too aggressive. My risotto was just right: the mineral tones of the saffron and the bright citrus zest perked up the dish and kept it from being too heavy on the palate. And since it was a seafood risotto, I didn’t use any cream or cheese (and only a small amount of butter). Hey, I’m not saying it’s diet food, but as risotto goes, it’s lighter than most. Oh, and as a side dish, I made some sautéed spinach with garlic, lemon and pinenuts. I do need a little something green on my plate if I’m going to eat all those carbs!
Saffron-Citrus Risotto with Seafood
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4-6 cups water, seafood stock / fish fumet if you have it, chicken stock, or some combination thereof (see notes)
1 shallot, minced
1 celery stalk, diced small
a large pinch of saffron threads
1 tsp citrus zest (orange, lemon, and grapefruit)
1/2 lb uncooked shrimp, scallops, or a combination
4-6 tbs butter
1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
salt and white pepper to taste
Notes: I used a combination of chicken stock and water, since I wanted to add some flavor but didn’t want it to taste overly chicken-y. A good option if you’re using shrimp is to peel the raw shrimp and simmer the shells in a bit of lightly salted water to make a quick stock (strain before using). For the citrus zest, a Microplane is the best option, but if you don’t have one, use a zester and then mince the zest. I really loved the combination of all three types of citrus zest, but feel free to just use one or two, or to substitute different types of citrus (with the exception of lime, which I think would be too bitter).
Directions: Put the stock and saffron in a saucepan and turn the heat to medium; when it reaches a simmer, turn it to low. Put 2 tbs butter in a medium sized heavy-bottomed saucepan or stock pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the shallot and celery and cook for 3-5 minutes or until the onions soften. Add the rice and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little salt and white pepper, and the wine. Stir and let the liquid bubble away.
Continue cooking over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup of the warmed stock. When the stock is nearly evaporated, add the next 1/2 cup, continuing the process until the rice is fully cooked. The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry. Stir frequently, making sure the rice is not sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tbs butter in a skillet for the seafood. If you’re using both scallops and shrimp, give the shrimp a head start of 2-3 minutes before adding the scallops to the pan. Cook gently until opaque, taking care not to overcook.
Begin tasting the rice after about 20 minutes of cooking. You want it to be creamy but still a tiny bit “al dente”. This could take up to 30 minutes or more. When it reaches this stage, stir in the seafood and its pan juces along with the citrus zest, and stir. If you want to take it over the top, add an additional 2 tbs butter. Taste for salt, and serve.