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Out of all the things folks say to me about making dinner, the most common might be, “I never know what to fix.” It occurs to me that while those are the words coming out of their mouths, the problem might not be that exactly. It might be a question of, “I know how to make tacos, but not enchiladas, so I buy the ingredients and cook tacos. A lot. I don’t have the time to learn enchiladas. Other days I make grilled boneless chicken breasts, salad, chili, mac and cheese, and hamburgers because I don’t need a recipe.”  Or…could be they didn’t plan a week’s meals and shop for the plan. We’ve all been there.

There are lots of answers to this difficult problem, but one of the best and most fun is to learn a new dish that can go in a few different ways and make it part of the weekly rotation until it’s a given and you don’t have to think about it any more. So let’s talk risotto. That’s just what the Italians call rice; it’s not a special dish to them.  Risotto has a lot going for it. Rice is cheap, versatile, quick, and filling. It’s even gluten-free and takes the place of many a favorite pasta dish if you’re skipping gluten. It’s sometimes used as the first course of a big Italian meal, primo, in place of pasta.  If you keep arborio rice and cartons of broth in your pantry, you’re half-way to dinner any night. Leftovers? Cold risotto in the fridge is like gold; just eat it with a spoon as is or you can make it into patties and fry it.

Below:  my Eggs on Risotto Cakes with Basil and Spinach

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Contrary to popular opinion, risotto does not have to be constantly stirred, though people say it does. Nor is it difficult to make.  Just keep a close eye on it and be patient. Put some music on and commit yourself to your pot of goodness. It’s a perfect and inexpensive vessel for using up the odd leftover (bits of cheese, vegetables, or meat) or for filling out a meal if you’re cutting back on meat. There are many many recipes for different kinds of risotto: Look here and…

You’ll see that some of these folks like a lot more butter, oil, and cheese in their risotto than do I, and you’ll make yours just the way you like it, too.

In today’s dish, I take the risotto, a summery-ripe tomato and mushroom one, to a bit of a different place–cozying it up on top of a crunchy, dressed kale salad and topping it all with a few oven-roasted shrimp. Perhaps an Italian cook would look askance, but this way you have a more balanced meal than risotto all by its lonesome. If you’re wanting simpler, you could throw plain shredded kale and shrimp into the nearly-done risotto for the last couple of minutes of cooking and serve it just like that. I, however, like the layers and textures in my dish. And besides, it’s pretty, which counts.

Like many dishes, the recipe looks a lot longer than the cooking actually takes. If, for instance, you have some leftover shrimp and quick salad makings, you’re half-way there, and only need make the rice. Anyway, read through first to create your own best method, but do try this right after you watch:

The risotto scene from THE BIG NIGHT, my favorite food film

SHRIMP ON TOMATO RISOTTO WITH KALE SALAD

Begin by preheating the oven for the shrimp, then start the risotto. While it cooks, roast the shrimp in the oven (or grill it) and make the kale salad.  Alternately, make the salad and shrimp ahead, keeping them ready in the fridge while you make the risotto. Don’t dress the salad until you’re ready to serve the meal.  

INGREDIENTS:

RISOTTO INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 cups (32 oz) low sodium chicken broth (plus 1/2 cup water if you’re at altitude as I am)
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 1 leek, sliced thinly — white and light green parts only, washed very thoroughly
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper
  • Generous pinch crushed red pepper, optional (I like Piment d’Espelette here.)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 ounces sliced button mushrooms–about a cup of sliced mushrooms
  • 1 large ripe tomato, diced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

SHRIMP INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound large/extra large frozen shrimp with tails, unpeeled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

KALE SALAD INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 cups finely shredded fresh kale
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 sweet bell pepper, diced
  • 3 scallions, minced, green and white parts (save one minced scallion for garnish)
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 small yellow squash, diced (summer squash)
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

GARNISHES

  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Minced scallion (reserved from kale salad)
  • Freshly grated black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

PREHEAT THE OVEN FOR THE SHRIMP:  

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil for the shrimp. Set aside.

MAKE THE RISOTTO: 

Heat the broth (and water, if needed) to boiling; reduce heat to a low simmer and place on a back burner.

Warm the butter and oil in a second heavy 4-quart pot over medium heat; add shallot and leek; sauté until tender, but not browned.  Add rice; stir and let cook a minute or two. Season with salt and peppers.  Pour in white wine. Stirring, let cook down briefly until wine is absorbed.

Pour in two ladles or so of the hot broth. Cook, stirring regularly, until broth is absorbed. The rice should be simmering, not boiling.  Repeat until all of the broth is used, and rice is nearly tender and creamy -al dente- adding the mushrooms when you’ve added about half of the broth.  If it’s still not done, add additional warm broth or water and continue cooking until al dente.

Stir in tomatoes and parsley. Let cook only another minute or so, stirring, to wilt the tomatoes just a bit.  Taste and adjust seasonings. It should be creamy, not sticky and not too brothy.  Cover and keep warm until needed. If risotto becomes too thick as it sits, add a bit more broth or a tablespoon of butter.

ROAST THE SHRIMP:

I buy frozen shrimp in a big bag from Costco as I live in a land-locked area where even the shrimp in the fish shop are previously frozen. If you live where shrimp are fresh, adjust recipe accordingly or use this recipe, excluding sauce, etc., of course!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit if you haven’t done that already. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  Place frozen shrimp on the sheet in single layer.  Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and peppers. Toss well.  Roast in oven for about 7 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven and carefully tip tray into the sink to remove excess water.  Return to oven and cook another 6 minutes or so or until shrimp is pink and just barely firm. Do not overcook. Remove from oven and set aside until needed.

Note:  Some frozen shrimp can be thawed by running it under cold water in a colander  for two minutes or so. If this is the case for your shrimp, do that and skip the step of removing the shrimp from the oven midway through cooking to tip out the excess water. The shrimp will cook in much less time–perhaps 8 minutes total. 

TOSS THE KALE SALAD:

In a large bowl, toss together everything but the vinegar, salt and pepper, and olive oil.  Set aside or refrigerate until needed. Just before serving, drizzle salad with vinegar and toss.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss again. Drizzle with olive oil and toss a last time, tasting and adjusting seasonings, including vinegar and oil, as needed.

PLATE AND GARNISH THE MEAL:

Divide the salad between 4 plates or large bowls, and top each salad evenly with 1/4 of the risotto.  Add a few of the cooked shrimp on top of the rice and garnish each with 1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a bit of the reserved minced scallion, and a few fine grinds of black pepper. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

{printable recipe}

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If you liked this, you might like my

Spicy Shrimp on Lemon and Chive Risotto with Tomato Salad

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or a roundup of my favorite More Time at the Table shrimp meals here.

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Sing a new song; make a new dinner and let love win,

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Alyce