EVENT: Date Night
TYPE: Romantic Meal
MENU: Shrimp Risotto with Sweet Peas and Leeks, Roasted Asparagus with Lemon
Though I know a free meal could never been viewed as a form of abuse, I still get occasionally paranoid that my friends feel taken advantage of for being my culinary guinea pigs time and time again. When I am not calling them to duty at my coffee table poufs, more than anything, I hope they are home experimenting themselves. So it is always a pleasure when I feel I can take a step back, hand over the spatula, and give people the confidence and the tools to do it themselves.
A few weeks ago, my friend Dave asked me to recommend a good, easy menu to wine, dine, and impress his date, recessionista style, in the comfort of his apartment. And to prove to women everywhere by Dave’s example that men like this do exist, I went into quarter-life coaching overdrive.
The menu I chose may surprise some, as risotto has a bad rap for being intimidating. If you have been wary in the past, I promise you there are plenty of venerable cooks who will quell your fears of future risotto-related incompetency and debunk the myth all together.
That said, I wouldn’t merit this meal as my foolproof answer for date night fare or for fledgling cooks in general—I chose it, however, for my friend Dave because of the romance factor, and because I know he has some experience cooking. Make-ahead meals where you are able to inactively reheat before serving are always the most stress free. But since Dave’s date didn’t eat red meat or chicken (somehow bacon was still in her diet), and fish was too intimidating (not to mention smelly), I decided to go the typical New York date route and stick with Italian. Since most pasta dishes need to be served hot from the stove, with even more hands-on activity (and a steam facial), I thought risotto was as good a choice as any—as long as all the prep work was done in advance. So I sent Dave directions for the risotto, and, despite having some definite tendencies to become a soccer mom or, worse, a backseat cook, I planned to leave everything up to him.
But though I thought I’d foreseen all the contingencies, when we reached game day, the date was suddenly canceled. For, as it turns out, Dave’s date not only didn’t eat red meat or chicken, she really didn’t eat anything at all.
Reflecting on the outcome, Dave said: “I wanted to relate to her. But the thing is, in my family, people only get sick from overeating. People only go hungry on Yom Kippur, and then they overeat.”
Needless to say, the date was not rescheduled. But I’m hoping that one day in the future, when Dave finds a nice lady friend who can deal appropriately with his latent desire to order everything on the menu, and does her part to eat half of his entrée, as he likely will hers, the opportunity will arise to try out his date night risotto on a more worthy audience. Or, perhaps, just with an enthusiastic friend.
From my kitchen, still containing a romantic bone (somewhere), to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
P.S. The risotto and asparagus pictured in this post are not figments of your imagination. After giving Dave the inspiration, I was inspired to make the feast for a casual meal that same week.
What follows is my attempt at fool-proofing what is already manageable recipe. Feel free to ignore some of the date-night details if you’re cooking this for a more low-key occasion.
NOTE: I did not combine the asparagus and the risotto into one fluid recipe. My recommendation would be to take care of the asparagus first—rinse, trim, and get them going in the oven before you tackle the main course. The risotto is more important to serve immediately, and the veggies taste equally delish room temperature or can be kept warm at low heat in the oven while you finish the risotto.
Just make sure not to forget about them in the oven while you are doing your other prep work—I have issues with forgetting about my roasting veggies and burning them!
½ lb peeled and deveined shrimp
2 ½ cup stock
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cups Arborio rice
1 large shallot, sliced
1 leeks, sliced
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
1/2 cup peas
1 tbsp lemon zest
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
The key to a stress-free dinner that is not prepared way in advance is to complete all the prep work before you actually start cooking.
On a large cutting board, slice the shallot and set aside. Trim the leeks, chopping off the dark green part so only the white shaft remains, and cutting off the root at the other end. Rinse very well in the sink—leeks can contain a lot of grit. Cut down the middle, and slice into thin strips one piece at a time. Set aside with the shallots.
On another section of the cutting board, finely chop the garlic, chives, and grate the lemon zest.
Rinse your shrimp, and pat dry with a paper towel. With your hands, remove the remaining shell by squeezing the top of the tale and putting gently. Roughly chop (1 shrimp should become 2-3 pieces).
Open your wine.
Place your stock in a large measuring cup or bowl. Heat in the microwave for 3-4 minutes until warm (you may have to do this right before you begin cooking the risotto).
On the stove:
In a large deep skillet or medium Dutch oven, sauté the shallot and leek in 1 tbsp of olive oil. Once translucent, about 3-5 minutes, add garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Add the rice and stir so it becomes coated in the oil and leek mixture. Cook for about 3 minutes to get the rice lightly toasted. Add ½ tsp of salt and the wine and cook, stirring, until nearly evaporated, about 1 minute. Return the heat to medium, and add ½ cup of stock, stirring occasionally until the rice has absorbed the liquid.
This portion of the cooking process will take some attention and instinct. You don’t need to be constantly stirring, but you also want to make sure that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. When the liquids are almost absorbed, add the next ½ cup of stock and repeat. Once the stock is almost gone, and the risotto has only a slight bite to it, add the peas, shrimp, lemon zest, and chives along with any of the remaining liquid. Mix to combine and allow to cook, stirring less frequently now. When the shrimp have taken on a pinkish tint, and the peas cooked through, you are done! During this time, if the liquids have absorbed, don’t be shy in adding more stock. This is not a precise science, it may end up being more or less than 2 ½ cups.
Taste for seasoning, and serve immediately.
1 bunch asparagus, bottoms trimmed
½ lemon, juiced
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
After the asparagus are trimmed and cleaned, combine them with salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil on a baking sheet. With clean hands, toss to coat.
Roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, making sure to rotate every five to ten minutes to make sure they brown evenly. When the stalks are golden brown on all sides and crispy, remove from oven and set aside.
Drizzle with lemon juice and an additional sprinkle or two of salt and serve.