Hi friends do you know what this week is!? You do. I know you do.
It’s Valentine’s Day week. Which… well it’s really just a day but I’m counting it as a week considering that’s how long I’ll have willed the romantic gesture of flowers into this home come Friday. I don’t ask for much, I just ask that someone reads my mind (or my blog, I suppose) and enthusiastically bring me flowers this Friday. Now I’m asking for enthusiasm in addition to flowers. I’ll chill exactly there.
Aside from my hidden / now very public hopes and dreams, I’ve fashioned a Valentine’s kitchen adventure for you. ‘Adventure’ is an ambitious word for it. The offering is to invite a pal, your best lady, or your sweetest dude into the kitchen to cook with you.
One of you makes the risotto (I always pronounce it the Gordon Ramsey way in my head). The other makes the shrimp étouffée.
I think cooking together is everything. It can be romantic. It can feel playful. It can liven up an otherwise boring dinner prep. No matter who you do it with, it’s just sweet – you’re creating something together. You’re spending time. You’re making a memory. What else are we here for but finding way to connect with one another?
Let’s spend a little time together in the kitchen and save the stack of dishes to save for the morning. It’s fine – they won’t go anywhere unless you have kitchen fairies.
My thought with this dinner is that you stay in this Valentine’s Day. Cook dinner together, have a few sips of wine, turn up a nice playlist, dance around the kitchen a bit. Generously spoon your joint efforts into bowls, light a few candles, and cozy up on the couch together for dinner and your favorite show. This is true romance – I can’t be wrong.
Make this kitchen adventure your own. If you want to make it easier and get to a cozy dinner on the couch faster, skip the risotto and buy a bag of frozen asparagus or mushroom risotto from Trader Joe’s. Easy – the shrimp will come together in 30 minutes. Do what you will, just enjoy.
Get a small head start on the risotto before making the shrimp.
Risotto takes two pans, one to keep the broth warm, and the other to slowly simmer the risotto. Do you need two pans? Yep – warm broth helps the risotto absorb the liquid properly.
While the broth slowly heats, bring together the rice.
Finely dice a bit of sweet onion and a few cloves or garlic.
I like to keep a bit of fresh thyme, butter, and parmesan for finishing the risotto but – we’ll start with onion and garlic.
Saute the onion and garlic in a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Swirl around the pan until the two are married, translucent, and fragrant – five minutes is nice.
Add the Arborio rice to the pan and stir to toast just so. I added a few whole thyme sprigs to flavor the rice as it cooks. You can pull it out towards the end.
After the rice toasts, hit the whole thing with a good splash of dry white wine. Allow it to absorb and evaporate.
With the pot over low heat, add the warm broth a few ladles at a time. Stir the risotto slowly as the broth steams and absorbs. It’s meditative. It’s satisfying. It’s a fun way to cook.
This is the risotto about halfway through cooking if you need a visual.
The rice has considerable bite and the liquid is still loose. It will work its way to creamy as the rice continues to cook and the starches make a velvety texture.
Add most-all of the liquid, though you may not need every last drop. Taste the risotto when it starts to plump. You can stop adding broth once the rice has just a tiny bit of bite.
The best way to know is to taste. You’ll get the feel for it.
Add parmesan cheese by the handful. Stir to allow the cheese to melt.
Add a few pats of butter, sea salt, and black pepper to enrich the rice.
Set aside until the shrimp os cooked through and piping hot.
Any extra broth can be stirred into the risotto just before serving as the rice continues to cook, absorb and thicken even as it rests.
Halfway through cooking the risotto, get started on the shrimp étouffée.
There are all kinds of étouffées to be found in New Orleans. Étouffée essentially means ‘smothered’ – so we’re smothering our shrimp in roux and flavor and serving it over deliciously creamy risotto.
This étouffée recipe is my new favorite. A gem from Ann Maloney, former food editor of the Times Picayune in New Orleans who now develops recipes for The Washington Post.
This étouffée was Ann’s first Post recipe and I’m just going to keep the recipe tab open on my browser until I memorize it. It’s simple yet classic, totally approachable and easy enough for a week night meal. The étouffée also dresses up well, making it a fine partner to our creamy risotto. Also – sans tomatoes is the way to go in my opinion so please – enjoy.
Simmer garlic, onions, celery, diced red bell peppers, scallions, parsley – the trinity plus some amendments and extras. Simmer to soft and fragrant in what feels like a large amount of olive oil. Trust the process.
While the vegetables simmer, whisk together a roux.
Roux is equal parts fat (we’re using butter) and flour, simmered together until deep caramel brown. The flour toasts and the mixture will add thickening and toasty flavor to the étouffée.
Stir the roux into the simmered and softened vegetables.
Delicious delicious we’re getting there.
Add the shrimp, toss to coat, and add a good bit of creole seasoning and cayenne pepper.
Add a lid to the pan to let the shrimp steam and cook until pink and cooked through.
The shrimp will help create a flavorful sauce. I like a spritz of lemon at the end.
Spoon risotto into bowl. Top with a few shrimp.
Bask in the wonder you’ve made. No matter who I’m with, this feels real sweet to me.
Enjoy this fine week – and the fine week after.
This is such a cozy winter meal. Get after it.
Photos with dearheart Jon Melendez.