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A Marathon Cooking Session with a Shrimp and Fennel Risotto Recipe

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I cook an extreme amount of food. When I'm standing in the kitchen and my feet are aching, I wonder why I get involved in making so many dishes. On the day after, looking at a steaming bowl of leftovers for lunch, I have a an inkling why. I love to eat, and I'd rather not face a night of take-out or an afternoon of Midtown lunch specials. I want fresh and delicious food, and I can only afford it by making it for myself.

I find cooking for my family extremely hectic. I'm usually rushing through a recipe hoping to stave off a melt-down, either on the part of Santa Maria or on the part of one of the kids. It's rarely relaxing. Yesterday was different. Santa Maria took the kids to the Brooklyn Museum and I had a couple of hours to myself in the kitchen.

We were on a good roll when it came to taking care of domestic tasks yesterday. Santa Maria and I knocked off the weekly shop, did some laundry, and made chicken soup, all before noon. We were feeling good when we were shopping, and in those cases, the shopping list tends to grow. Waiting to pay, Santa Maria came up with all kinds of things she'd like to have for dinner--fresh salsa and guacamole, included. She ran off to get cilantro and a ripe avocado.

We settled on having an old favorite for dinner: shrimp-and-fennel risotto. The recipe is adapted from "Gourmet Everyday," a great cookbook the sadly closed magazine published a few years ago. All the recipes in it are fast, and most are delicious. This risotto is a perfect example.

When we got home, I realized that I had planned a different dinner for that evening, coq au vin. I had a chicken in the back of the refrigerator that needed to be cooked. Its sell-by date was Monday, and I could tell just from opening the refrigerator that it would barely make it that long.

We were having the chicken soup for lunch, though, and that was enough chicken for one day for me. The old chicken would have to wait.

When Santa Maria went out with the children in the afternoon, I got to work in the kitchen. I started chopping onions and fennel for the risotto. I started to prep the items for the coq au vin, which I would make the following morning before taking Nina to school and going to work. Time is short in the morning these days, and I would have to have all the prep work done in order to finish the dish and get Nina out the door on time.

Also, I wanted to make my weekly quinoa salad, so that meant more and more chopping and roasting. And I wanted to serve roasted cauliflower to the kids upon their return from the museum. And I wanted to chop the onion and the tomato and to wash and chop the cilantro for the fresh salsa and guacamole. In the midst of this frenzy, I suddenly wondered what other men do with their free time on a Sunday. Isn't there something called the NFL? Aren't there college bowl games at this time of year? Who knows? You can't eat them, can you?

Santa Maria and the kids came back from the museum (where, in the photo exhibition of rock and roll stars, Nina saw a singer mooning the camera and has since learned this vital and sophomoric skill herself), and we started eating. We all downed the cauliflower. Santa Maria whipped up the guacamole and homemade salsa, and melted the cheddar cheese on the organic corn chips.  I defrosted a bit of black beans for the children, who I figured would not eat the risotto. Nina tried it, but she didn't like it.

I can't imagine why she didn't like the risotto. It's a marvelous dish, and quite beautiful. The shrimp is pink and the fennel fronds are green. The rice is white and creamy. The fennel lends it a distinctive licorice flavor and the shrimp, when cut up my special way, are curly and tender and filling. The dish itself is low in fat, if you make it my way with just olive oil. The trick to the shrimp is to slice each one down its back into two long pieces. I usually don't have time to do this when the kids are around, but yesterday, I had the opportunity. When the shrimp are cooked at the end of the dish, they wind themselves up into little corkscrews. They are delightful. I thought so this afternoon when eating the leftovers for lunch. The nice thing about the way I cook, upping the proportions substantially, is that I have leftovers from my leftovers. I'll be eating some of it tomorrow for lunch again. I don't mind. It's that good.

Shrimp and Fennel Risotto
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 or more heads fennel, cored and diced, fronds reserved.
  • 1 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 cup Arborio or other short-grained rice
  • 1/2 cup or more white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 4 or more cups of hot water
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and sliced lengthwise into two long pieces

Salt the shrimp by layering them in a bowl and putting 1/2 t. salt on them. Put another layer of shrimp on top of that and salt them as well. Continue until all the shrimp are salted. This step can be done as the shrimp are sliced into two pieces.

Heat the chicken stock and the water until boiling and then turn down to a low simmer.

Sauté the onion in the oil until soft.

Add the fennel and continue to cook until soft.

Add the rice and stir to coat each grain with oil.

Add the wine and cook and stir until the wine is absorbed.

Add a ladle of stock to the rice and stir.

Stir (on and off) until the stock is absorbed.

Repeat the last two steps until the rice is almost cooked. If you need more liquid, just add hot water to the stock mixture. The rice should be tender but still firm in the center.

Stir in fennel fronds and the shrimp and cook a few minutes until they are opaque and pink. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serve immediately.

Note: you can make this with butter if you prefer a richer taste.

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