Saffron Risotto with Peas and Langoustine

No, I didn't make my own stock or grate my own cheese this time; please don't judge

No, I didn’t make my own stock or grate my own cheese this time; please don’t judge

In what passes for winter in Southern California, one may on occasion wish for a wintry dish, and nothing fills that bill quite like risotto. There are a million ways to make it, but I had a hankering for some peas, and I had gotten a great deal on some frozen (and pre-cooked) langoustine, so I cogitated on what spice might work well with the two of them; I settled on saffron. I had some that my brother had brought back from Turkey, and a little (slightly fresher, if not as exotic) Spanish saffron from Trader Joe’s, each of which made it into the final mix.

Risotto (or “little rice”) can be traced back to 16th century Milan, though rice’s role in Italian cooking predates that considerably, having likely been introduced by the Arabs who conquered Sicily in the 9th century. By many accounts, saffron arrived in Italy in the 13th century, though it’s not clear who brought it in. Why it took the Italians three centuries to marry saffron and rice in this dish is something of a mystery, but it just bears out the thesis that risotto is the great-granddaddy of the slow cooking movement. Arborio rice, which is central to the dish, is a short-grain rice named after the town of Arborio in the Po Valley, where it is grown. [Some areas in Italy use other varieties of rice; Milanese chefs are said to prefer Carnaroli rice, while Vialone nano is more popular around Venice. Neither are as widely available in America as Arborio, though both can be found at Italian specialty markets or through Amazon.]

Two things about risotto: First, don’t be intimidated. It’s time consuming, no doubt, but once you get your head around that, it’s really not hard to make a very tasty, elegant dish that will wow your friends (or, in this case, endear me to The Bride). Second: There is no speed round when it comes to risotto making. Commit to stirring constantly for the better part of 45 minutes. Think of it as a kitchen meditation, where all the world’s cares drop away and you can focus on the gastronomical, physical, and spiritual union of stock and rice.


• 1 liter (4 cups) vegetable stock, maybe a bit more
• 75g (5 tbsp) unsalted butter
• 30ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
• 1/2 medium brown onion, finely chopped
• 1/2 celery stick, finely chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
• 375g (1 3/4 cups) Arborio rice
• 190g (1 1/4 cups) frozen peas
• 500g (1 lb) frozen cooked and shelled langoustine
• Pinch of saffron threads
• 125g (1 cup) finely grated Parmesan
• Salt & freshly ground black pepper
[Remember, grams are a measure of weight, and cups are a measure of volume, so there’s a little room for movement here. We’re not in a science lab.]

Stock warming nicely

Stock warming nicely

First, bring the stock just barely to a boil, then set it back to a simmer. If you have not yet defrosted the langoustine (they often to tell you to do it the night before by moving them from the freezer to the fridge, but I rarely plan that far ahead), take them from the freezer, put them in a sealed plastic bag, and set the bag in warm water. Since they will only be at this warming temp for about 40 minutes or so, you don’t need to panic about bacterial bloom or other fishy evils.

Butter and allium products bubbling

Butter and allium products bubbling

Next, heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan over low heat until foaming. Add the onion, celery and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until onion softens. Add the rice and cook, stirring, over medium heat for 1-2 minutes or until the grains appear slightly glassy.

Stir until the rice is coated with butter and begins to turn glassy

Stir until the rice is coated and begins to turn glassy

Add a ladle (about 125ml / 1/2 cup) of the heated stock to the rice mixture and use a wooden spoon to stir until the liquid is completely absorbed. Why wood? It’s so much nicer than plastic, isn’t it?

Adding some stock, then stirring, and stirring, and stirring...

Adding some stock, then stirring, and stirring, and stirring…

Continue to add the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly and allowing the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next.

As the rice absorbs the stock, it gets creamier

As the rice absorbs the stock, it gets creamier

Cook until the rice is just tender and the risotto is creamy (this will take at least 25 minutes — DON’T RUSH).

Ready for the last little mix; langoustines, peas, and cheese all added

Ready for the last little mix; langoustines, peas, and cheese

Add the langoustine, peas, and saffron, and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until well combined and heated through. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Remember: the Parmesan brings its own saltiness, so have a light hand with the NaCl! You can always add more salt — even at the table — but you can’t take it away.

C'est fini! Or, more appropriately, è finito.

C’est fini! Or, more appropriately, è finito.

Spoon the risotto into bowls and serve immediately. Try not to consume it like a just-uncaged wolverine.

Building a Greater Grater

Grating my nerves, mostly

Grating my nerves, mostly

I’ve never had a happy relationship with any box grater, ever. For the most part, they are designed for a child’s hand, are honed about as sharp as Carrot Top’s wit, and embody the confidence-inspiring sturdiness of single-ply bathroom tissue. Basically, they feature one marginally useful side (pictured), while the other three are for clogging, juicing, and… I never quite figured out what that fourth side was for. On occasion, I might be able to shred cheddar, provided it nailed the precise thermal sweet spot where it neither crumbled nor smeared, which, to the best of my ability to determine it, is 2.5˚C (36.5˚ F), or just slightly colder than the interior of my fridge. Accordingly, the potential gratee usually detoured briefly to the freezer while I tried to triangulate the stay required to arrive at la température idéale. Upon its removal, I had roughly 41 nanoseconds to complete my task before the warmth of my hand and the ambient temp turned le fromage into un blob gluant. Back to the freezer, 41 more nanoseconds, again and again and again.

During the holidays, I decided to buy a new grater for The Bride as a stocking stuffer, and I was determined not to repeat the same mistake I had been making for the better part of 40 years. Enter the Microplane 4-Sided Box Grater.

Size isn't everything, but it does count

Size isn’t everything, but it does count

If there is such a thing as the Maybach Landaulet of box graters, this is it. Strike that — they don’t make Maybachs anymore, and new Rolls-Royces are just plain fugly, which this isn’t. Call it the Bentley Flying Spur of box graters; not flashy, but meticulously engineered. To extend the metaphor, if the price of the average box grater in Target’s or Tesco’s housewares section were indexed to, say, a Kia, the Microplane is gonna cost you like a Cadillac. [I think I paid $35 USD + tax for mine at Sur la Table.] But oh, what luxuries it affords.

Who's the greatest of them all?

Who’s the greatest of them all?

Let’s start with the dual handle; nicely contoured for the palm of the hand, with an additional finger grip for added stability. The plasticised feet set the tool’s base about an inch above the cutting board/pan/plate surface, so you can actually see how much you’ve grated (used to be, one had to lift up the grater to peek, which meant carrot or parsnip or cheese shreds tumbled out, thereby making it impossible to set it level again without a pile of fuss). The blades, which are hella sharp, come in ultra coarse, fine, medium ribbon, and slicer sides, the latter of which provides a sort of mini-mandoline for cucumbers and carrots and the like. One of the sides even slides off so you can comfortably (and thoroughly) clean the grater’s interior. And maybe best of all, it comes with a protective plastic shield for storage, which keeps the blades sharp and your fingers safe (when reaching in the drawer for it, anyway; the usual safety cautions apply during use). No wonder it took the gold medal in the Kitchen Hand Tools category of the 2009 Housewares Design Awards.

This may not be the last box grater you’ll ever need, but it’s probably the first one you won’t regret having bought.

Such a Tool

Everything put together can be taken apart

Everything put together can be taken apart

No cook or chef I know — myself included — ever seems to have enough storage space. The recently acquired Piment d’Espelette doesn’t fit into the spice rack, the deal you got on parchment paper at Costco means you’ll be keeping it in the garage (or worse, the back seat of your car), and measuring spoons often exhibit a sock-like knack for going missing unexpectedly, particularly at a mission-critical juncture. The folks at Progressive International have more or less solved this last dilemma with four sets of measuring spoons that have mastered the art of spooning, in that they nest — and remain — together in the drawer. No more hanging spoons off a ring like a jailer’s keys. No more trying to eyeball 7.5 mL’s worth of baking soda in a 15 mL spoon.

From a design standpoint, they are elegant and really thought through. First, they have measuring bowls at both ends, one narrow for digging spices out of small-necked jars, one round and well suited to liquids. How many times have you had to wash or dry your measuring spoon because you were moving from wet to dry ingredients? Problem solved. Second, they are flat on the bottom, so they sit perfectly on the counter or stovetop, making it easy to drizzle in a little liquid from the jug of olive oil or vinegar. Third, because the stems and bowls are flush, it’s easy to scrape across the top to level off dry ingredients. Fourth, they display both metric measurements and their archaic counterparts. And finally, they lock together, keeping them beautifully compact and always at the ready in the storage drawer. As a special bonus, any spoons superfluous to your current project can remain locked together, presuming you arrange them from smallest to largest.

Measuring spoons spooning

Measuring spoons spooning

The set I have (pictured above) are made of stainless steel and snap together mechanically at the mid-section, but you can also get a snap-fit set made from plastic, and both plastic and stainless versions with embedded magnets to wed them.

Brilliant. Simple. How ever did I get along without them?

Next up for this kitchen: Progressive International has adapted the genius bit to measuring cups. Gotta get those without doubt.

[NOTE: While many of these links send you to, Progressive International products are available through a variety of retail channels, both brick-and-mortar and online.]


Special kudos to for their photo of kitchen drawer chaos. Makes me feel like I’m right at home. And to for the first coherent explanation on why socks can’t live together in peace and harmony. [They’ve also neatly outlined the difference between mayonnaise and Miracle Whip in an R-rated strip.]