Cook Whatcha Got Challenge Dinners #1 and #2

Our first challenge dinner was Monday, and yes I am posting today…Thursday. A visit from a lovely stomach bug de-railed the challenge for a few days, but I’m back in the kitchen and ready to tackle my pantry and freezer!

Monday was MLK day and my husband and kids were all home for the holiday. The kids all had basketball practice at different times during the day and I had promised my girls a shopping trip to use some gift cards that were burning holes in their animal print wallets so whatever dinner was had to be quick and easy to reheat for different meal times! Oh the joys of a busy household!

For Monday’s dinner I had some cooked chicken breast, a partial bag of Italian blend shredded cheese, and fresh basil. In my freezer was a small container of oven roasted tomatoes from the summer. It all came together in Chicken Parmesan Calzones!
I had the morning at home which gave me time to make some delicious whole wheat Italian bread dough. After an hour of rising time, it was beautiful!

I rolled the dough thinly, filled them sealed them and baked on my pizza stone. I cooled them quickly and put them into the fridge and everyone heated a calzone (or 2!) in the oven and helped themselves to a beautiful salad of Romaine, fennel and Navel oranges w/ an orange and shallot vinaigrette. It was quick and easy! there were a few calzones leftover that became the lunchbox envy of my kids friends!

Tonight’s challenge dinner had to be on the light side since I am just easing back into my kitchen. I have two partial boxes of Arborio rice in the pantry and that sounded so good today! In my freezer, I had a big bag of shrimp shells that I have been saving and adding to for awhile, as well as a bag of easy-peel uncooked shrimp and a partial bag of peas.

The recipe comes from a favorite cookbook of mine called ‘Risotto, More Than 120 Recipes for the Classic Rice Dish of Northern Italy’ by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman. I bought this cookbook many years ago, loved it, used it and decided I could find recipes online or from my imagination, and then I sold it at a book sale or garage sale four or five years ago. STUPID! Oh how I missed that cookbook, it was a great inspiration for ingredients and when teaching people how to make risotto it is a great primer! So when I was in Boston to meet Chef Jacques Pepin, and I saw a copy for sale, I bought myself a new copy! My husband thinks I have some sort of pathological need to acquire cookbooks, but this one is one I really love and I am so glad to have it back!

So back to tonight’s recipe. First, I made a shrimp broth using all the shrimp shells, some onion, celery and parsley that I simmered slowly for about 20 minutes. I strained it and kept it warm to make my risotto.
Meanwhile I peeled my bag of shrimp (saving the peels to start my new bag for next time!).

Risotto is actually very easy to make, it just takes some time and patience. You MUST use Italian rice (Arborio or Carnaroli), it has a higher starch content which is what makes risotto…well, risotto! You wouldn’t use risotto to make sushi, nor should you use sticky rice or long grain rice or brown rice for risotto. It just doesn’t work!

You begin by heating the brodo (broth)to a low simmer. It must be hot to add to your rice so it cooks uniformly! Then you prepare the soffritto, the aromatics like onion, leek, peppers, celery which change according to your recipe. For the shrimp risotto, the soffritto is just onion and garlic in some butter and olive oil. Saute until soft and add the Arborio rice (riso) and cook it for a minute or two in the soffritto to coat it and begin to cook it. And finally, adding the hot brodo to the pan 1/2 cup at a time ( I use a soup ladle), simmering and stirring often. The trick is to wait until the liquid is almost completely absorbed before adding more broth. A true risotto takes about 18 minutes until the broth is absorbed. The ‘condimenti’ for tonight is shrimp and peas. Depending on your recipe the condimenti can be added at the beginning, middle or end of the recipe. In this case, the shrimp will go in about 12 minutes into the cooking time so it is just cooked through when the risotto is ready, and the thawed peas will go in about 2 minutes before it’s ready so that they are still vibrant green and have a good texture.

Depending on what you read, some authors suggest saving a small amount of broth until just before serving to insure creaminess, while others say to add a pat of very cold unsalted butter and some Parmesan cheese. I did both!

Ahh, this is comfort food at it’s best! All from my own pantry and freezer! We served this with a nice fresh salad and some rolls from the freezer that were reheated. It was a lovely dinner!

Take a minute to see what my chef friends are cooking for the challenge this week! Great ideas and recipes!