Amanda & Merrill

Shrimp and Sugar Snap Pea Risotto with an Almond-Basil Pesto

June 18, 2010

Shrimp and Sugar Snap Peas Risotto with an Almond-Basil Pesto

- Amanda

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.

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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

Serves 6

  • 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.


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Rhonda35 June 20, 2010
I had some of the sparse leftovers for dinner when I arrived at "Family Week" Sunday evening. It wasn't too shabby then, either! I agree with Chrispy's comment about pureeing the sugar snaps - I loved the flavor distributed throughout the risotto, but I think I would have liked it reinforced with some of the sugar snap peas left whole and stirred in with the yellow squash. FYI for all of you, Amanda cooked Florida shrimp again last night (somehow she ended up with two nights of cooking - both farmers' market days) - last night's meal was even better! - Gulf shrimp roasted with olive oil and thyme, roasted cubed potatoes and the green bean recipe from the recent contest - I believe it came in 2nd. The shrimp swirled around in the dressing from the green beans was unbelievably delicious! Celebrated our 11-yr-old niece's birthday with a chocolate bundt cake (also from food52) and we were all sated and happy!
ourlastsupper June 20, 2010
I sit 5 miles from Destin and can tell you that we still have sugar sand beaches and crystal clear blue water. The shrimp as well as a lot of other great seafood is still delicious and safe to eat. We are saddened by the spill but we also don't want anyone to think our beaches have been ruined. We still have the most beautiful beaches in the world and charter fishermen are ready to take people out on the water. It's not too late to make plans for a summer vacation here. You will be very warmly received.
drbabs June 20, 2010
Thanks, Andra. We'll be in Blue Mountain beach from July 11th-18th. Keeping fingers crossed.
Ryan June 19, 2010
Why isn't there an option to save this recipe?
Amanda H. July 31, 2010
good point! We haven't added that feature to blog posts yet, so what we do is add the recipe to the recipe database and there you can save it. See this link:
Kelsey B. June 18, 2010
Fun recipe and what a great vacation! My in-laws are in Venice (used to be on Siesta Key) such a nice area and several great restaurants. I recommend Midwestern Meat in Venice FL if you are ever down there - a great butcher and he also makes great pies! (you can guess what goes into the crust...)
Kitchen B. June 18, 2010
Have fun Amanda. This risotto sounds fab!!!!!!!
Amanda H. June 18, 2010
Chrispy June 18, 2010
Great combo and looks good, except, why would you take something are precious as sugar-snap peas and puree them? Seems sacrilegious. Maybe if they are not good quality and left over, but not fresh from the market. They are called sugar-snap peas for a reason.
Maybe use frozen peas or tough ends of aparagus (great way to use them by the way) as the puree.
Amanda H. June 18, 2010
The sugar snap peas are barely cooked and by pureeing them, their sweet bean-y flavor permeates the entire risotto. It's really just a question of how you want to distribute the flavor of the sugar-snap peas. If you prefer an undistributed flavor, I can respect that -- but I was pretty happy with my green-tinted risotto. I didn't use regular peas because I felt they'd be too starchy, and asparagus is out of season here (but if it had been in season, I think that would be great, too!).
dymnyno June 18, 2010
I love Sarasota! A few good restaurants...and we always stay at the antique of a resort that is as close to the gulf as you can get and the nicest owners, the Klaubers. We fill up on fresh seafood when we can.
Amanda H. June 18, 2010
It's a great town and gets better and more interesting every year. My mother is on Siesta Key, a little sliver of an island about 15 minutes from downtown. We swim and cook and that's about it!
melissav June 18, 2010
Thank you for showcasing gulf shrimp. As a native Floridian, these grace our dinner table at least once a week. I can only hope we continue to enjoy them (and our beaches) over the years. Fingers crossed. And you are absolutely right about Sarasota. . .gets better every year. My husband is from there and we've been observing the changes every time we go back.
drbabs June 18, 2010
Oh, Amanda, this makes me cry. I grew up in New Orleans, and we (17 of us in our family) are scheduled to get together at a big house we rent on the Gulf just outside of Destin. We have big family dinners like this every night (and I am saving this in case we can still get shrimp)--and we buy shrimp--also with their heads on--directly from the shrimpers on the Gulf. (Funny story: last summer, my brother-in-law asked the woman selling shrimp, "Are these from the Gulf of Mexico?" Her response--pointing to the Gulf--"No, they're from that gulf over there.") Like the Sarasota area, the Destin area (known as the beaches of South Walton) has beautiful sugary sand and clear aqua water and is just paradise. So far the beaches have stayed clear, but they are starting to get a few tar balls. The devastation of the Gulf of Mexico is so sad and horrifying--and we all only hope that we can enjoy our beach this summer and that they get this oil spill stopped soon. Sorry for rambling. Thanks for posting this. My husband and I are in charge of dinner for the last night (because we have whined so much about bad pizza) and I think this would be a great last meal before we all go home.
Amanda H. June 18, 2010
Fingers crossed there will still be shrimp -- and glad your family has admirably decided to stick to its plan.
Teri June 18, 2010
Drbabs, I'm right there with you. Nothing tastes as good as a sweet Gulf shrimp. Amanda had me at Fresh from the Gulf. I grew up vacationing in Fort Walton and in New Orleans. If you're wondering whether the rest of the world is watching and worrying, this girl in Tokyo is.
lastnightsdinner June 20, 2010
drbabs, my first husband's family is in Grayton Beach, and I have wonderful memories of time spent on those beautiful beaches, and of the impeccably fresh seafood we'd get there. It's where I had my first oyster, my first grilled grouper sandwich, and where I learned to love that incredible gulf shrimp. Reading about this ecological disaster and looking at photos of the devastation makes me weep, and I too hope that the spill is stopped and the oil contained as soon as possible.