The nice thing about going to a liberal arts school is you’re required to take multiple classes in areas other than your major, ensuring you get a well rounded education. The even nicer thing about going to a liberal arts school in Florence is you can take a cooking class that counts as your science credit.
I’m a huge fan of risotto, so you can only imagine my excitement when we had a class and the title was: Risotto ai Frutti di Mare.
The first step was creating the brine: 1 liter of water with balanced salt (sugar and salt) in a pot to boil. Simple.
Next, we had to clean the shellfish – a process that slightly disgusted me, as we had to remove some weird sea-weed looking parts of off the mussels.Then we added the clean shellfish with a bit of brine into a plastic bag and vacuum it shut. This concept of cooking was new to me and I still don’t understand why we did it, but we then added the sealed plastic bag into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes until the shells of the clams and mussels opened up. After it opened, we cut open the bag removed the shellfish and put this new seafood infused brine back into the original brine we made. We removed the shellfish from their shells and kept a few in the shell for later.
Next, we prepared the actual risotto. This step, Marco – our cooking instructor, swore was essential to the process. We put a bit of olive oil into the pan, with chopped garlic, and added the rice (uncooked) in order to toast it. This would give the rice an infused flavor. We then added some white wine.
The third step was creating the risotto. We added ladles of the brine – enough to cover the rice – onto our rice. This required a lot of attention because you needed to know when to add more brine and had to stir in order to prevent it from sticking. You continued this way until the rice was al dente.
Then it was the mantecatura – the creaming – AKA the hardest part. We removed the pan from the heat and had to do that chef thing – where you flip the rice in the pan by just shaking it. VERY hard to do. Also, we needed to add olive oil in order to give it the creamy texture. Then we added in the sea food and served it in on a plate.
If you wanted it to look especially restaurant-esque, you would finish it off with some parsley, olive oil, a glazed basil leaf, a few clams and mussel shells, and a dash of pepper. I really liked the taste of it, but I avoided eating the mussels and clams due to their gooey texture. However, I did something wrong because I’m pretty sure there was a crunch to it, either undercooked rice, broken shell bits, or some sand……. I guess I’m still a chef in training!