For a recent evening I had a simple dinner for two planned: broiled shrimp, braised escarole, and plain rice. But when I went to defrost the 12-ounce package of shrimp that was indicated on my freezer list … Eek! there were only 5 ounces’ worth. Rapid change of plan required!
In hopes of not having to run out to a store, I began looking for a reasonably quick, unfussy recipe that would combine a few shrimp with a lot of rice. I expected to find some in my Spanish cookbooks, my Mexican ones, even my New Orleans ones. But no: There were plenty of interesting recipes using shrimp and rice, but all too time-consuming and ingredient-heavy for my immediate need.
Well, I said to myself, there’s always risotto.
Then – perversely, you may say, since I’d rejected other preparations as being too complex – I looked in my Italian cookbooks for a risotto recipe that would be at least a little uncommon and interesting to make. I found one in Michele Scicolone’s 1000 Italian Recipes: Shrimp and Celery Risotto. I found it intriguing because, other than in cold seafood salads, I’d never thought of combining shrimp and celery. Furthermore, my five ounces of shrimp were just the right amount for making one-third of the recipe, which was written in quantities to serve six. Clearly, this was meant to be.
I also had some fish broth in the freezer, which I proceeded to melt down and simmer with the shrimp shells while I chopped celery, onion, garlic, and parsley; cut the peeled shrimps into small pieces; and measured out two-thirds of a cup of short-grained Italian rice.
The cooking began by turning all the aromatic vegetables into a soffrito: sauteeing first the onion in olive oil, then the celery, parsley, and garlic. Gentle cooking, nice aromas already coming together in a simple harmony.
When the celery was still just a little crunchy, I stirred in the rice, let it sauté a bit with the soffrito, and began slowly adding strained broth in the usual risotto manner – just enough at a time to keep the dish moist. I didn’t have quite enough broth, but hot water was fine at that point of the cooking: The rice had already absorbed plenty of flavor. Just before the rice was tender, I added the shrimp, along with salt and pepper. They cooked quickly, and at the very end I finished the risotto with a healthy slosh of extra-virgin olive oil.
It was very good indeed: rice nice and creamy, shrimp still toothsome, all flavored gently by the celery. A substantial and satisfying dish. If it had a flaw, it was the minor role played by the celery. I can’t blame the recipe for that, though; I blame winter. I’m sure the risotto would have had more charm if I’d been able to use the vibrantly green, crisp, flavorful celery that I used to get from the summer Greenmarket instead of the pale, watery, cellophane-bagged kind that’s what I have to make do with now.
Anyway, I’m glad to have discovered this recipe and relieved that I salvaged a pleasant meal even with so small an amount of shrimp. Sound economics and good flavor: a fair deal for a weekday dinner.