A few years ago I started keeping an informal journal — a log, really — of meals I cook for my family. My kids, now 14 and nearly 13, were much younger then, with typical kid palates. I knew, in my slightly overwhelmed and distracted state, that if I didn’t write down the dishes they liked, along with how I made them or what cookbook or web site they came from, I would promptly forget.
My chronicles have been inconsistent, with some gaps in the journal extending for months. But overall, the exercise has been a life-saver. I’ve referred to my journal countless times when I’ve been at a loss for what to make or when I have tried to get out of one of those dinner ruts we all find ourselves in from time to time. (The ultimate irony in being someone who cooks and writes about food for a living is that it is still an ongoing struggle to put something on the table at dinnertime.)
The journal has evolved; some dishes have fallen by the wayside, replaced by new favorites. And some have made a surprise comeback after being forgotten for years.
Also, I am not the only one doing the cooking. Both my husband and our soon-to-be13-year-old daughter like to cook and are good at it. Our 14-year-old son much prefers being called to the table when everything is ready, but we are working on him.
As a result, things have gotten a lot more creative in our kitchen, which is why we’re starting this weekly All We Can Eat blogpost called The Family Dish.
Here is where we will share some of our favorite dishes to make. Most of the time these will be main dishes or one-dish meals, which are the most practical for weeknights. Occasionally, though, we’ll offer other favorites, such as a great homemade dessert. We hope that you, too, will share your favorite family dishes and we look forward to hearing about them and posting them.
This first recipe, Spring Vegetable and Shrimp Risotto, is one that my daughter, Adriana, and I created together to celebrate the season.
Don’t be intimidated by the word ‘risotto,’ which many people consider labor-intensive because of the amount of stirring involved. Adriana and I put this together fairly quickly on a weeknight after she had finished her homework. She chopped and prepped and I did the stirring.
The nice thing about this recipe is that it takes well to variation. You can substitute spinach for the chard or toss in some peas toward the end of cooking or leave out the shrimp and stir in some grated cheese to make the dish vegetarian.
Serve the risotto with steamed asparagus that is dressed lightly with olive oil, a spritz of lemon and salt.
Because my husband, Scott Vance, did wine recommendations for my upcoming book, “Williams-Sonoma Rustica Italian,” I’ll pass along his suggestion for what goes well with this meal and for future posts. (Scott is a wine lover whose enthusiasm exceeds his budget.) This week, it’s Falanghina, a crisp Italian white from Campania.
8 ounces (1 bunch) rainbow chard
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 leeks, white and light-green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into thin slices
1 medium clove garlic, lightly crushed but left whole
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups uncooked arborio (short-grain) rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 to 7 cups fish stock, vegetable broth or low-sodium chicken broth, warmed
12 ounces large shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut crosswise into thirds
Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 small lemon (2 or 3 teaspoons zest; about 3 tablespoons juice)
Cut the stems from the rainbow chard leaves and slice them crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick pieces. Coarsely chop the leaves. Reserve the stems and leaves separately.
Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Stir in the chard stems, carrots, leeks, garlic and thyme. Cook, stirring from time to time, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables have begun to soften. Add the chard leaves and toss to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the leaves have wilted, stirring the pot occasionally to prevent the vegetables from sticking. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Remove the garlic.
Pour the rice into the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the grains turn shiny. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the wine. Cook for a minute or two, until the wine has evaporated. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low to maintain a gentle bubbling and pour in a cup of the stock or broth. Cook, stirring often, until the broth has been absorbed. Add half of the stock or broth and stir until it is absorbed. Keep adding stock or broth, 1/2 cup at a time, until the rice is almost cooked through; this will take about 20 minutes.
Add the shrimp, lemon zest and half of the lemon juice to the pot and stir well. Add a little of the remaining stock or broth; cook for about 5 minutes, until the shrimp are just cooked through. Taste and add the remaining lemon juice if you want a more pronounced lemon flavor. The risotto should be a little loose at the end of cooking, so add a splash of stock or broth if necessary to keep the risotto from becoming clumpy. (You may have a little broth left over.)
Ladle the risotto into shallow bowls; serve hot.
Domenica Marchetti is the author of the upcoming “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” (Chronicle, June 2011) as well as “The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy” (Chronicle, 2006) and “Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style” (Chronicle 2008). Her blog is at DomenicaCooks.com.