I have a love affair with saffron. It may be because it appears in many dishes from my region, Lombardia—best known is Risotto alla Milanese. In my humble opinion, saffron marries perfectly with risotto, but I have used it in pasta sauces, vegetable medley and as a marinade for either a nice halibut filet or a juicy rib eye steak.
For this recipe, I ventured a bit outside my comfort zone and purchased precooked, frozen shrimps from the new, pimped out Whole Foods Market in Charlottesville. It may look intimidating, but this dish is a breeze. I promise. All you need is 1 1/2 cups of shrimps (any size will do), garlic, good white wine, 2 packets of saffron, 4 cups of Arborio rice (for 4 people), 1 cup of vegetable stock, salt and pepper. See? Nothing too fancy.
After washing the shrimps…and making sure they are all devenied, get out the best tool in the kitchen: the pressure cooker! It will cut the cooking time in half. No joke.
Mince the 3 cloves of garlic and place them in the cooker with some extra virgin olive oil. Roast the garlic for 3 or 4 minutes, or until golden. Add the cut and cleaned shrimps and the saffron and cook for about 2 minutes. The saffron that I use is from Italy and was sent to us by Francesco’s parents. I use two packets or the equivalent of 2 teaspoons. Mix the ingredients until they all look uniformly orangey. Call me crazy, but I just LOVE the color of saffron.
Add the Arborio rice and cook all the ingredients for 5 to 10 minutes. Now comes the fun part. Add the wine, and don’t be alarmed if it makes all kinds of noises and smoke. Stir it until the rice is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the vegetable stock and make sure the liquid covers all the ingredients.
Add salt and pepper, taste it and cover it up. Cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Once it’s ready to serve, sprinkle some Parmigiano Reggiano and let it melt. Buon Appetito!
If there is one thing I love to make is risotto. Give me any ingredient and I’ll think of some way to make it eatable. This does not mean I have perfected the art of making the dish. That’s a completely different story.
Risotto alla milanese, risotto with saffron (zafferano), originates from my home town in Italy, Milano. I have this vivid memory of my grandmother standing by the kitchen stove stirring a pot of risotto with a long, thin wooden spoon. She made me taste it every time. No matter how many times I attempt to master this dish, my risotto still manages to be a dry, dark (which I found out means too much mushroom water) and too salty. A bit of a mess. Without further ado, here is my documented attempt.
I started by soaking dried wild mushrooms for a couple of hours in warm water. If you more time (more than 15 minutes), use cold water and let them soak for about 3 hours. Clean the mushrooms under running water; strain their soaking water and put aside. It’ll come handy once you’ll begin needing liquids to add to the rice.
The dried mushrooms pale in comparison to fresh Porcini mushrooms like these below Francesco’s dad brought home one day a couple of years ago. I mean, can it get any better? Three words: Linghine with Porcini.
After soaking the mushrooms, let’s get the pressure cooker ready. Cook garlic or onions in a bit of olive oil until golden. I used to add the liquid before the rice, but mom told me otherwise. So, add the rice and let it broil for about 5 minutes. Add the saffron and cook for a couple of minutes. The fragrance and color of saffron are, I believe, unrivaled in the kitchen.
After cooking the rice and saffron together for a couple of minutes, add about a cup of good white wine. Add the mushrooms. Let it simmer and begin the arduous task of adding liquid about every 10 minutes.
I typically use vegetable stock, but I know the real Italian recipe calls for either beef or chicken stock. My secret weapon is a pressure cooker: 20 minutes and the risotto is ready!