"Whatchacanfind" is a term coined by an old college roommate of mine that refers to a dish with a bunch of stuff thrown in it that was just laying around asking to be cooked, is not good for anything else, and/or is about to go bad. She usually made Chili Whatchacanfind. I do this a lot with soups, throwing in random vegetables, but my whatchacanfind ingredients the other night included shrimp and peas, so something a little more elegant was in order.
First let me say that risotto is an elegant, delicious dish that is very versatile and also impressive. You can make it with chocolate or seafood, chicken or vegetables, champagne or vegetable broth; you can serve it as a meal, a sidedish, an appetizer, or a dessert. It looks expensive (and is, in restaurants) but is relatively easy, doesn't take too long, and can be very healthy. Risotto is a rice dish that eats like a pasta; it's warm, filling, comforting, and creamy, though it doesn't usually have any cream in it at all. If you're only going to master a few recipes to keep in you repertoire, make risotto one of them.
Risotto is made with arborio rice, a short-grained starchy variety. If you can't find arborio, just use the shortest-grain white rice you can find. I've had to use medium-grain in the past, and if you've got the technique right, it will still work. The trick to risotto is to add the liquid slowly while constantly stirring, as opposed to "regular" rice, where all the liquid is added at once and you don't touch it. Stirring it constantly agitates the proteins (or something.......if you want to know, watch Alton Brown's Risotto episode) to release the starches into the liquids slowly, thickening the liquid and creating the creamy consistency. But I'm not a food scientist. I'm not even a chef or a TV host. But I love me some risotto.
Another excellent resource for learning to master risotto is Giada di Laurentiis' Everyday Pasta cookbook. She simply lists ingredients that work well with risotto and go well together, to show you how versatile it can be. We frequently use asparagus and champagne, or mushrooms and red wine, but like I said, what I had on me this partucular night was shrimp and frozen peas. Find your largest frying pan or a soup pot and get started. First I sauteed the shrimp very simply, with salt and pepper, just until it was barely cooked through, then I removed it from the pan and set it aside. Dice an onion (or shallot if your other flavors are more delicate). Saute it in the same pan with some butter or olive oil. Add 3/4 cup uncooked arborio rice and toast it just for a minute. Add 3/4 cup white wine or 1/2 cup chicken broth. I only had veggie broth this time, which is fine. You can also use fruit juices for sweeter varieties, red wine for a richer taste, or champagne for fancier dishes. Stir the rice constantly at a medium pace until the liquid is almost evaporated/incorporated, then add another 1/2 cup of liquid and continue stirring. Add all of the liquid, 1/2 cup at a time, in this manner until the liquid is gone and the rice is fully cooked. Your risotto should be on the verge of boiling during the entire cooking process. Not quite at a full boil, but still reducing the liquid and hot enough to cook the rice. I added the peas toward the end, but when I still had about a cup of liquid left, because they were still frozen and I wanted to give them time to cook. I also needed to be able to play with the temperature, to maintain my rice after throwing frozen peas in it. If your peas are at room temperature you can add them at the very end along with the cooked shrimp.
I usually add parmigiano-reggiano at the end but I wanted to keep it low-cal on this night. Shrimp is fat-free and full of protein. There's a small amount of fat in the chicken broth, but other than that this is a healthy, delicious meal, complete with 'meat', veggie, and starch.
You can do this with almost anything-you-can-find. When I use asparagus, I boil it in the broth first to partially cook the asparagus as well as flavor the broth. You can use dried mushrooms too, boiling them in the broth to rehydrate them and flavor the broth before adding them into your risotto at the last minute. You can use lemon juice for a light lunch, or chocolate and pomegranate juice for a decadent dessert. It does require you to stand in front of it for 30-plus minutes, but it is so worth it, and it will be better than anything you find in a restaurant. I'm always disappointed in restaurant risottos, but mine always turns out. I think this is because they sit on a heating surface in restaurants and dry out, but at home you get it fresh off the stove.
Tonight is taco night, nothing special but easy and yummy. The halloween festivities are coming up and it's costume central at my house. The kids have a trunk-or-treating carnival to go to next weekend, so I made the decorations for our trunk today, and I bought the treats. I'm a lame mom, I guess, and for as long as I can get away with it, I'm giving out raisins and fruit snacks instead of Snickers. I still haven't found my Anne Boleyn necklace and my husband's cape is half done, but it's really crunch time now and I've got to get going. On the upside, I did finish two scrapbook-calendar pages the other night. I swear as soon as this year's calendar is done, I *will* start on the baby book for my youngest, who will be one in about six weeks. Yikes!
After trying my hand at sewing and beading, each for the first time, in the last two weeks, I can definitely say I do NOT need another hobby. I have five unfinished novels that will testify to that.
Anyway, go digging around in your pantry and see whatchacanfind :)