At my mother's local farmers market in Sarasota, Florida, is a fisherman who sells the best shrimp I've ever tasted. Fresh from the Gulf of Mexico, they come with their heads on, glistening in the morning light (and morning is the only time you see them because they're gone by 9 am). This week, she bought a boatload of them to celebrate the start of a week-long family vacation.
Cobbling together some other ingredients my mother had around -- basil from her herb pots, almonds from her freezer, the steady supply of vidalia onions in her fridge -- my mother, brother, one of my sisters, and I dreamed up and then cooked up this risotto. We used the shrimp heads and shells to make a broth for the rice, we pureed the sugar snap peas and made a coarse "pesto" with nothing more than basil, almonds, oil and salt.
While my sister Andrea heroically stirred for 30 minutes (we made a batch for 14, so it was serious heavy lifting), my brother Dean grilled the shrimp. It's the kind of dish that comes together at the end. The shrimp broth risotto was folded together with the sugar snap pea puree and the yellow squash (which cooked in the heat of the rice on the way to the table). This was topped with the grilled shrimp and the pesto was dappled over all. Eight adults and six kids all ate happily. A bittersweet nod to the vulnerable bounty of the Gulf.
Shrimp and Sugar Snap Pea Risotto with an Almond-Basil Pesto
- 2 pounds head-on shrimp
- 1/4 cup packed basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons sliced almonds
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the shrimp
- Sea salt
- 2 cups sugar snap peas
- 1 cup chopped vidalia onions
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 1 1/2 cups carnaroli or arborio rice
- 2 cups thinly sliced small yellow squash or baby patty pan squash (about 3 of the former, 12 to 15 of the latter)
1. Remove the heads and shells from the shrimp. Place the heads and shells in a medium saucepan, cover with 6 cups water and bring to a boil. Season the water with salt. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain into a clean pan and bring to barely a simmer.
2. Meanwhile, lightly coat the shrimp with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a grill to medium high -- and find someone to grill the shrimp for you while you make the risotto.
3. Combine the basil leaves, almonds and 3 tablespoons olive oil in a blender or small food processor, and puree until coarse, not entirely smooth. Season with salt. Scrape the pesto into a small bowl. Rinse out the blender and place back on the base.
3. Bring a medium pan of salted water to a boil, add the sugar snap peas and cook until just softened on the edges but still crisp inside. Drain and add to the blender; puree until just faintly coarse.
4. In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and cook until softened. Add the rice and stir to coat. Cook for 3 minutes to toast the rice. Add the wine and cook until evaporated. Begin ladling in the shrimp broth a 1/2 cup at a time, stirring all the while. The liquid should be at an active simmer; adjust as needed.
5. Continue adding broth and stirring until the rice is softened on the edge and al dente -- like pasta -- in the center. Season as you go. When it's halfway cooked, send your grill person out to cook the shrimp.
6. When the rice is cooked, remove it from the heat. Fold in the yellow squash, followed by the sugar snap pea puree. Adjust seasoning and liquid -- the rice should be loose but not soupy.
7. Ladle the risotto onto dinner plates, top each with a few shrimp and spoon over some pesto. Savor the remaining bounty of the Gulf.