12.21.2008

week 15: winter solstice


I understand it has already been quite cold in New York this season, and some snow has fallen; people have complained about the brevity of daylight. Yes, yes, yes. But let me tell you this: in Luxembourg today, the sun rose at 8:29, and will set at 4:37; a scant 8 hours and 8 minutes of daytime, while I see that New York will have 9 and 15. The disparity is not, I assure you, inconsequential. 

And snow? It has snowed here a dozen times. It has sleeted, it has hailed; frozen rain has pelted me, frequently. Every few days, a dense fog settles over everything, then freezes the whole landscape white. When I climbed out of the car on Thursday, to go wait for school to let out, the thermometer read -1°C, and for good measure it was raining. Hard. And it was windy. You don't know what lovely is until you've stood in a gusting below-freezing rain at 3:00 p.m. with the sun barely above the horizon. 

Alex asked, "Daddy, when is the sun going to shine again?" I looked at the kid, his eyes all wide with innocence; I didn't have the heart to say "May," so I feigned ignorance. He was silent for a minute, then he said, not for the first time in his life, "Remember, Daddy, I was the first in our family to talk to Katherine, in Orient." Katherine has a nice swimming pool, which she's kind enough to allow the boys to use. It didn't take me long to figure out how Alex got from Question A to Comment B, nor what the imminent C would be: "When we get to Orient next summer," he began, "do you think we should go to Katherine's pool right away? Or should we call her first?" This question was 100% earnest. I told him we should call. Then his follow-up floored me: "From the airport?" I almost crashed the car.

But then late Friday morning, despite a forecast that called for the usual rain, it became partly sunny, and the temperature rose above 40, where it hadn't been for weeks. Then the sun became brilliant. I walked out into the streets of the vielle ville, to wander around, to Christmas-shop. The whole city seemed to be with me, having laid down their umbrellas, dusted off their sunglasses and even their smiles; in general, this isn't a terribly smiley place. I don't think 40 and sunny had ever felt so warm. 

a recipe: risotto aux crevettes et petits pois

In honor of the balmy weather, I felt like I should give us a break from my relentless stewing, from the heavy meats and hearty casseroles that seem like requirements when it's -1°C and raining; also a break from what may have become my pathological habit of including bacon lardons in every meal. But it's not as if I could grill some corn and mix an heirloom tomato salad; we're still where we are, when we are. So I bought these tiny freshwater shrimp that are sold all over the place, inexpensively, and a packet of arborio. The petits pois, I have to admit, are frozen. And I further have to admit that even if we were living next to a pea farm, at harvest time, I think the peas in my pot would still be frozen; there are some conveniences that are simply too convenient to resist. Plus nearly all the frozen peas I've ever eaten have been better than nearly all the fresh peas I've shelled. 

Serves 2, generously

Olive oil
1/2 pound of the smallest, sweetest shrimp you can find, shelled
Salt and pepper
Butter
1 medium onion or large shallot, minced
1 cup arborio rice, or whatever rice type you prefer
Dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock, heated in a saucepan to a simmer, ready for action
3/4 cup frozen peas
Crème fraîche or heavy cream or butter, all optional
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Put some oil in a small casserole or a deep pan over high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Sauté them aggressively for at most a minute, then get them out of that pan quickly, before they turn to rubber. Toss some water into the hot pan and deglaze, then dump any scant liquid into the bowl with the shrimp. Replenish the pan with a slick of new oil and a tablespoon of butter. Add the onion and cook over medium heat for a couple minutes, until soft and translucent but not brown. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the rice. Toss the rice in the oil and onion, and let toast for a couple of minutes, until just barely coloring. Pour in 1/2 cup wine, which should evaporate almost entirely in a minute, while you stir. Add 1 cup of the hot stock, stir, and let cook for a few minutes. (This is really the only break you'll have when simmering the risotto--which will take a total of  more than 15 minutes--so if you need to make a quick phone call or clean up some big mess you made, do it now, quickly.)

Once that 1 cup of stock has evaporated, add another 1/2 cup of it, stirring, and then another 1/2 cup, and so on, stirring with greater frequency and urgency as the cooking progresses, and the rice releases its starch and becomes more prone to sticking/burning/ruining if you're not vigilant. Once the rice has been cooking for 12 minutes, stir in the peas, and keep at the stirring and moistening. The risotto is done when (a) the rice still has the tiniest bit of firmness to it, and (b) it seems moist in there, but when you push the rice to the side, no pool of liquid forms, and (c) you may not have used quite all of your stock. Stir in the reserved shrimp and whatever liquid is in their bowl.

Remove from the heat (which means not merely switching off the burner, but actually moving the pot off the heat, or you'll risk having sticking issues). If you've got some crème fraîche lying around (because maybe you made blanquette de veau the other night), then stir in a tablespoon of it; some heavy cream would also do, or just butter. Or an absence of utterly gratuitous dairy would also be fine. But the cheese is not gratuitous; I think you need something to hold it all together, and to add tang, and salt. So stir in a handful of Parmigiano-Reggiano, at a minimum. Place the cover on this pot, and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Uncover, stir, and taste; at this point, unless you were profligate with the Parmesan, you'll probably want to add more cheese, and maybe salt and pepper too, all of which you should also put on the table with this pot, right this instant, because the perfection of risotto is fleeting. 

2 comments:

Amy said...

on the very wintery drive to elka today i said to bo "who's song is this" and i hummed the can-can. i have not done this in at least six months. his eyes lit up and and he said "sam and alex!" followed immediately by "when will we see them again?" without thinking i said "may." he said "THAT SOON?"

Justine said...

Lux is definitely the Seattle of Europe. Unless it's more accurate to say that Seattle is the Lux of the US.