Aurel here. It’s been a while. Sorry about that. The past few weeks were dedicated to my trip to Chile. I recharged my batteries, cleared my mind, and now I’m back– fresh, happy, and ready to cook. I also have a lot of stories to share with you: stories about my new friends, the beautiful places I visited, and the delicious food I ate.
My stay in Viña del Mar with my new friend Juan Pablo inspired me to make this dish. I talked briefly in my past blog post about how excited I was to meet Juan Pablo and his family. Our mutual friend Camilla introduced us via Facebook, and we exchanged a few messages before my trip. The time I spent at Juan Pablo’s family was special. It was certainly one of the highlights of my trip mostly because it was something I haven’t experienced before: it was made to feel like I was home. I felt welcomed from the moment I entered his house and the connection with Juan Pablo and his family was instant, as if we knew each other forever.
I arrived on a Sunday, just in time for Sunday lunch. Sundays are when Juan Pablo’s family gets together. Every single week, his parents, grandmother, siblings, uncles, and family friends have a big lunch together. The lunch started with Veronika and Lucho, Juan Pablo’s parents, welcoming me with a piscola -- which is pisco (a traditional Chilean booze) with Coca-Cola and a few slices of lemon—followed by Chilean red wine. These much-needed libations helped me feel more confident about my limited Spanish and allowed me to cobble together sentences that everyone somehow understood.
For lunch Veronika prepared fresh cheese empanadas dipped in powdered sugar. I thought it was a bit odd, but once I took my first bite, I couldn’t stop stuffing my face with them. After the empanadas, we had a traditional Chilean corn pie called Pastel de Choclo, which served as our main dish. Then came the dessert: Pavlova. Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert topped with berries. The Pavlova was followed by coffee and yet another dessert: grape pie. The family tradition is to drink whiskey or tequila after finishing all the food, and I was happy to comply. I happened to have a small bottle with me, and we shared that as well. It was amazing; everyone was present and content eating, drinking, and sharing stories. It was one of those moments that reminded me how much I miss my family and our gatherings. Somehow Chilean hospitality suddenly felt so familiar.
The next few days that I spent in the Bahamonde house were as great as the first. We had lunch together almost every day. Veronika prepares home-cooked meals most days of the week. Sometimes it was something simple like fish with a side dish of potatoes, and other times she prepared more complex dishes like risotto. Veronika likes to experiment with ethnic cuisines. Our shared passion for good food served us well. She allowed me to help in her kitchen, and I was able to introduce her to my Hungarian beef stew (marhaporkolt).
Veronika’s risotto was impressive. It was perfect: creamy and flavorful with a nice bite to the rice. When Juan Pablo and I sat down to eat, I realized Veronika served me twice as much food as Juan Pablo. My portion was huge! When I asked Juan Pablo if increased portions for guests was a Chilean tradition, he told me, “No, that’s just my mom. She thinks you eat more because you’re macizo.” After a quick google translate search I found out what macizo meant: meaty or massive. “Not fat,” Veronika said, “but in good shape.” I didn’t complain. I ate the entire plate of risotto, relishing the fact that I am a macizo!
TRADITIONAL PRAWN AND PEA RISOTTO
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
- 1 lb. fresh prawns (16/20 count size), peeled and deveined
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp chili flakes
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 3 ½ cups low-sodium broth (vegetable or chicken)
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 medium-sized shallot, finely chopped
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup fresh green peas
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 5-8 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped (about 2 Tbsp.)
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (about ½ medium-sized lemon freshly squeezed)
- Using a paper towel, pat the prawns dry. Season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes.
- Heat olive oil in a stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil easily slides across the pan, add the prawns and cook for 2 minutes tossing occasionally.
- Add lemon juice and cook for another minute. Immediately remove the prawns from the skillet as they will continue cooking if left in. Set them aside on a plate.
- When prawns are cool enough to handle, pick 6-7 of the larger ones and dice into small bite-sized pieces. Keep the rest of the prawns whole.
- In a medium sauce pan, bring broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep the broth hot and simmering.
- In another sauce pan (medium or large) heat olive oil over medium heat until it starts shimmering. Add shallots and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until they become translucent, stirring constantly.
- Add rice and increase heat to high. Toast rice for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Pour in wine. Cook and stir until it evaporates, about 2 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to low. Add broth to the rice one ladle at a time. Stir until it is absorbed to make sure the rice releases the creamy starch. Allow each ladle of broth to be absorbed before adding another one.
- When the rice is al dente add peas, salt and pepper. Continue cooking for another minute or so.
- When the risotto is done, remove pan from the heat and stir in the basil, parmesan cheese, butter and lemon juice. Mix well, taste again and adjust the seasoning.
- Stir in chopped prawns and cover the pan with a lid. Let the risotto rest.
- Serve hot topped with whole prawns. Sprinkle with freshly grated or shaved parmesan cheese.
- In the world of professional cooking, the expression al dente refers to the degree to which pasta, rice, beans or vegetables are cooked. Al dente translates as "to the tooth” and it indicates that the rice or pasta should be tender but still firm to the bite.
- Taste risotto as you go and adjust seasoning to your preference, but be careful with the salt. Remember that the parmesan is salty, too, and isn’t added until the end of cooking.