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Prawn and asparagus risotto

As a contrast to the budget-conscious meals I’ve been writing about recently, I decided to shove the boat out and make something with a bit of pre-Christmas luxury. Prawns, asparagus, saffron and salty, savoury pancetta cubes don’t come cheap, but if you mix them all together in a boozy risotto like this they’re delicious beyond all reason – worth every penny.

There are a few different kinds of risotto rice available in shops. I always use Carnaroli, which can be less easy to find than the more common Arborio. It’s worth hunting some down. Carnaroli rice has a slightly longer, slimmer grain than Arborio, and has a higher starch content and firmer texture when finished; you can hold a risotto made with Carnaroli rice at the al dente stage without worrying about the grain collapsing into a sandy sludge as Arborio might. That extra starch makes a world of difference in a risotto, resulting in a really velvety, creamy finish that you just don’t get with other rices. Carnaroli is still grown in the Po valley, where a network of canals constructed in the 19th century irrigates the rice terraces with water from the Alps. American readers can find Carnaroli produced in South America, but the Italian product, raised in the traditional way, is supposed to be the finest, and is really worth hunting down.

To serve four, you’ll need:

320g Carnaroli rice
1 litre fish or chicken stock
1 large glass white wine
2 banana shallots
3 stalks celery
4 cloves garlic
100g pancetta cubes
a few sprigs of thyme
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, ground coarsely in a mortar and pestle
1 large pinch saffron
1 large pinch chilli flakes
180g raw, shelled prawns
150g asparagus tips
1 large handful grated parmesan
1 handful chopped parsley
40g butter
2 teaspoons olive oil

Put the saffron in an eggcup and pour over boiling water. Bodge the saffron around in the water with a teaspoon, and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

Chop the shallots, garlic and celery finely. Sauté the pancetta in a teaspoon of olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a high heat for about five minutes until its fat is running, then add the butter, shallots and celery to the pan with the fennel, reducing the heat to medium. Sauté, keeping everything on the move, for two minutes, then add the dry rice to the pan, and continue to sauté until any liquid from the vegetables has started to absorb into the rice. Pour the glass of wine and the contents of the saffron eggcup into the pan and stir until it is absorbed. Add a ladleful of the hot stock to the rice and bring, stirring, to a gentle simmer. As the stock is absorbed, add another ladleful while you stir. Continue like this for about 18 minutes, stirring and adding gradually to the liquid in the pan, until the rice is soft, tender to the bite and velvety.

When the rice is nearly ready, saute the prawns in a a teaspoon of olive oil with a pinch of chilli flakes until they turn pink, and chop the asparagus tips into bite-sized pieces. Stir the asparagus into the hot risotto for two minutes. The heat from the rice will cook them to a bright green. Immediately before serving stir the prawns (with any juices and the butter from the pan) and parmesan into the mixture with salt to taste (you shouldn’t need much, depending on the saltiness of your pancetta and stock) and a handful of chopped parsley.

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  4. Chicken and chorizo risotto
  5. Goat’s cheese and asparagus tart

4 comments to Prawn and asparagus risotto

  • Asparagus has too many syllables.

    Not only that, it tends to be stringy and fibrous.

  • I am glad you are not feeling “poorly” anymore. Happy Holidays, Liz.

    Jono

    p.s. I’ve been wearing out my copy of Musewell Hillbillies recently (Kinks). The track called “Skin and Bones” has some great lyrics about food and eating.

  • Love aspatagus i any fashion.

  • Liz

    Garfer – if you grab the bottom of the asparagus stalk in one hand and bend it until it snaps, you’ll find that the snapping has occurred right at the point where the stalk becomes fibrous. Just discard the bottom, fibrous part, and you’ll be left with lovely tender asparagus (which still has too many syllables).

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