I’m Feeling Nostalgic (Or How to Make Orso’s Seafood Saffron Risotto)

Seafood Saffron Risotto with Parsley Garnish Inspired by Orso’s Dish.

It was January 2004, and Brett Favre was still known as the Packers’ Super Bowl-winning QB instead of a grandfather accused of sexting with a Maxim model on the Jets sidelines. For some reason I was feeling cocky (pardon the pun) during the NFC playoffs, and I placed two bets on the Eagles/Packers matchup with two of my best guy friends.

Needless to say I lost both of those bets after the Eagles got a first down on fourth and 26 (devastating clip below). Not only did I lose a case of Heineken to Neil, but I also owed Josh $50. Never mind that my team also lost the game…. It was kind of a bad Sunday.

I’m not going to lie: handing over a dozen Heinekens to a diehard Eagles fan hurt a little, but I’m not one to bilk my buddies on a bet. I was also prepared to fork over 50 bucks to Josh (even if he only bet against my team to antagonize me), but he decided it would be more fun if I took him out to dinner instead. I never pass up an excuse to go out to eat, even if I am paying, so obviously I agreed.

How we ended up at Orso, an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills, at 10 pm is a very long story that involves a Brett Ratner movie wrapping late, Dick Cheney’s fleet of black Suburbans backing up traffic all over LA, and Nozawa, the Sushi Nazi of the San Fernando Valley, refusing to let us in when we arrived five minutes late.

So, anyway, there we were on the Orso patio, absolutely famished. Everything that could have gone wrong with our dinner plan had gone wrong thus far. Our luck changed when I surveyed the offerings and saw that the rotating menu included seafood saffron risotto.

“Sweet salvation by carbs!” I cried. (It was my favorite dish at the restaurant, and it was not always available.)

Even if Dick Cheney’s cavalcade of cars had kept us from our fancy raw fish, I was still able to have some seafood, and the dish was divine.

After salads, entrees, pinot grigio, moscato, and biscotti, I think my $50 bet ended up costing me more like $150, but we had a blast, and it did make me forget about the end of the Packers’ playoff run, if only for the night.

Sadly, the restaurant (named after a Venetian dog) closed years ago.

So, here I am eight years later, unable to name a dog “Brett” as I had once planned (see earlier sexting scandal), and feeling a bit nostalgic about football and the seafood saffron risotto at an LA restaurant that is no more.

I created my own version of the dish as best I could from memory, and I intend to eat it tonight while watching Michigan’s overtime win in the 2012 Sugar Bowl that is still saved on my DVR. You might want to pair your meal with something more soothing like, say, Chet Baker, but I need more football in my life.

My version of the recipe is below:

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Seafood Saffron Risotto

5 Cups chicken broth
¾ Cup dry white wine
6 Tablespoons butter
4 Garlic cloves
½ Teaspoon saffron threads
1 Pound of Trader Joe’s mixed seafood (shrimp, calamari and mini scallops)*
2 Shallots
1 1/2 C Arborio rice
Chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Bring broth, saffron threads, and ¼ C of wine to simmer in a saucepan. Reduce the heat; keep mixture warm.

Place the frozen seafood in a colander and run hot water over to slightly thaw it. Drain completely.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add 3 cloves of minced garlic and the seafood mixture. Sautee the seafood until the shrimp begin to turn pink. This should take about 2 minutes. Add the remaining ½ cup of wine and simmer until the seafood is cooked. This will take about 2-3 minutes. Set aside the seafood and cooking liquid.

Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped shallots and 1 remaining clove of minced garlic. Sautee until the shallot is cooked, about 4 minutes. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat, about 2 minutes.

Add 2 cups of the broth mixture. Simmer until the liquid has been absorbed, stirring frequently. Continue adding the broth mixture, 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently, and simmering until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. This will take about 20 minutes. Stir in reserved seafood liquid and the seafood. Cook until the rice is slightly tender, and the mixture is creamy. This will take about 5 additional minutes.

Season the risotto to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and serve.

*You can obviously use fresh seafood, which will improve the taste. I was looking to cut costs a little. The dish is still very tasty even with the frozen fare.

Lobster Macaroni and Cheese (Or Sorta Cheap Seafood Mac)

Somewhere in the middle of my last date, the waiter set a plate of lobster mac in front of me. I was hating myself just a little as I said something like, “There is an alternate reading to Hitchcock and Lynch’s apparent misogyny….” I think I may have gagged. It was either the pretentious conversation in which I was partaking or it was the peas in my lobster mac. (A sneak attack of peas! The menu clearly did not state that the subtle flavor of lobster would be overpowered by Gruyere, nor did it warn that the smoky cheese would be accompanied by an assault of unwelcome peas.)

I returned home, determined to banish the bad taste from my mouth; I was on a mission to make my own lobster mac.

The guy? Well, he wasn’t my taste either, but one thing at a time. Carbs and crustaceans first. Dating later.

I scoured epicurious for a recipe and found a promising option

I started reading the list of ingredients. “A live lobster – AND 6 ounces of crab? Um, I’ll be amending this,” I thought. “I’m not killing a lobster today. And I’m not paying the nice guy at Gelson’s Gourmet Market $25 a pound to do it either.” I opted for a lobster tail, and I 86ed the crab since it has been really expensive lately. I added extra shrimp to make up for the seafood I couldn’t afford.

My modified recipe is below.

Still Expensive But Won’t Bankrupt You Lobster Mac

6 oz lobster tail
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
16 large shrimp, tails on (deveined)
3/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped peeled carrots
3/4 cup chopped celery
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and flattened
2 Turkish bay leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup brandy
3 cups of water
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup whipping cream
2 cups grated Fontina cheese (about 8 ounces)
1 cup mozzarella (about 4 ounces)
8 ounces shell pasta
Parmesan for dusting

Start by prepping the garlic and dicing the mirepoix, because it sucks to get partway into a recipe and realize your rhythm has been disrupted by lousy prep at the start. There’s a lot of downtime in this dish, so the other prep can wait.

Submerge the lobster tail into a pot of boiling water and cook it thoroughly, about five or six minutes. Transfer the tail to a cutting board. Cut the lobster meat into pieces, roughly 1/4 – 1/2  inch in size. Stick the meat in the refrigerator and set aside the shells for later use.

Remove the tails from the shrimp and set them aside with the lobster tail.

Heat roughly one tablespoon of oil in a pot over medium-high heat. (Confession: I never measure this sort of thing.) Add the lobster shells and shrimp tails to the skillet and sauté them for about 4 minutes. Toss the garlic, onion, carrots and celery into the pot. Dance around to a bit of Britney while stirring the ingredients (about six minutes). Add the tomato paste and stir for roughly 1 minute. After removing the pot from the heat, it’s time to stir in the brandy (mmm). Add 3 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Now is a good time to shred your cheese, wash some dishes, or file your taxes… because it’s going to be a while.

(I load the dishwasher, wash some bamboo cutting boards and do an awkward dance to Ke$ha at the same time. I periodically monitor and stir my stock because I’m OCD like that. You probably don’t have to.)

Now it’s time to strain the mixture. You’ll need to press on the carrots and other solid items to get all of the stock out, and I recommend using the back of a spoon for that because the bits are still pretty hot.

Now, set the stock aside. Heat roughly 1 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan (or pot) over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté until they’re opaque in the center, about 3-4 minutes.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir the roux for about 1 minute. Add the stock and cream, simmering until the sauce is reduced to 2 cups, about 5 minutes. While you’re waiting for the mixture to reduce, you should put a pot of salted water on the stove to boil. Once the sauce has been reduced, add the cheese, and stir until it’s smooth. Add a bit of salt and pepper and remove the cheese sauce from the heat.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water. (You want the pasta to be al dente, or slightly firm.) Drain the pasta. Stir the lobster, shrimp, pasta, crab, and 1 tablespoon of butter into sauce. Add the pasta noodles and stir over low heat until heated.

You can eat the pasta like this, OR you can transfer it to single serving ramekins. If you choose this option, dust the pasta with a light layer of parmesan. Place the ramekins in the oven at 425 degrees and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the parmesan cheese is slightly brown.

If you’re single, like me, and still wading through a sea of bad dates at overpriced gastro pubs, you can freeze the lobster mac in single servings and defrost it slightly before baking it in single ramekins for weeks to come. It still tastes good that way. True story.

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