Since my husband went gluten free nearly two years ago, we eat a lot of rice in our house. For those most part, the rice on a typical weeknight menu is basic; light and fluffy white or nutty and healthy brown rice. Every now and then, I kick things up and bring out the arborio rice to make risotto. It is more work but it is so worth the extra effort.
As long as you follow the basic rules, risotto can be a blank canvas to highlight the flavors and textures of the additional ingredients that you add. I often make mushroom risotto and love the earthy flavors that emanate from the mushrooms, onions and thyme. For this recipe, however, I wanted to make a shrimp risotto that included a variety of colorful vegetables.
My rules for risotto:
1. Soften the aromatics in a combination of olive oil and butter. I used leeks this time but often use onions and garlic.
2. Saute the uncooked arborio rice in the oil and butter until lightly browned. You can also do this before the aromatics if you really want a nutty, toasted flavor or if you prefer a basic recipe without aromatics.
3. Have hot stock on stand-by. At least 4 times the amount of rice you used. I made a basic stock with the shrimp shells and a few cloves of garlic. Chicken stock works very well with most recipes.
4. Once the risotto is toasted to your liking, add 1/2 cup of dry, white wine. It adds a layer of flavor that is wonderful.
5. Once the wine is absorbed, add a 1/2 cup of hot broth and stir slowly until it is absorbed by the rice. Continue to repeat this until the rice is smooth, creamy and fully cooked. The fully cooked risotto should be firm but should not have any crunch or hard bits in the middle.
6. I like add in vegetables along the way, depending on how long I wanted them to cook. In this recipe, I added sliced mushrooms early on, riced red bell pepper close to the end, and frozen green peas very near to the end.
7. I grilled the shrimp separately but you could add the raw shrimp into the rice while it is cooking. Be careful though because shrimp can overcook very quickly.
I paired this dish with a Pinot Noir from Bouchaine, located in the Carneros region of Napa. This lovely red wine, with a hint of spicy red fruits and nice acidity, went very nicely with the richness of the risotto. I recently visited the winery and had a wonderful time.
Even though many people think that seafood dishes should be paired with white wines, I really think that you can have a very neat experience if you challenge those conventional “rules”. A light red wine, like a Pinot Noir, is a wonderful complement to a dish like this and often matches very nicely with shrimp.