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Garden Green Risotto with Shrimp and Guanciale

In Fish and Seafood, Italian, Main Course, Pork, Recipe, Rice and Grains, Side Dish
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This is a dish that was inspired by an asparagus risotto recipe I saw in a cookbook a while ago, and I thought it would be an interesting launching point for a light and fresh summer risotto I'd been itching to create.

Concerned that the overwhelming "greenness" of the dish might throw the kids for a loop, I decided to add select items that I knew they loved as a sort of peace offering (read bribe), and you know what?  It worked.  There are peas for Muppet, shrimp for Peyton, and for the boys, the porcine perfection that is guanciale.  

Guanciale, for those of you that haven't had the pleasure, is cured pig jowl (cheek), and is a culinary marvel well worth the effort to acquire for its delicate texture and complex taste, this stuff is very special indeed.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm fairly well convinced that the boys would eat a bowl of bat guano as long as it were laced with enough chewy / crunch bits of guanciale.....'nuff said. If you can't find any (the pig cheek, not the guano), thickly cut pancetta would make a reasonable substitution.

 I've always like my risotto on the loose (soupy) side, and am always disappointed when presented with a dish, that upon cooling, starts to resemble that white paste glue that more than a few of us ate excessively in kindergarten (OK, raise your hand if I'm talking about YOU).  To obviate the risk of that happening, many cooks will add an extra large splash of stock or cream at the end of cooking, which while doing the trick at keeping the mix loose, can act to either rob the dish of its flavor (in the case of a mild stock), or rob the diner of a few days of their life (in the case of cream).  Not willing to suffer either of these fates, I decided to get the job done here with the use of a vegetable purée added just before serving, that not only adds a great deal of flavor to the dish, but a wonderful "garden green" hue as well.

This is a dish that Peyton and I pulled together the other night, as I felt it would fit well within her newly defined "pescatarian" sweet-spot.  The only thing she'd have to pick around on the plate was the guanciale, which when we sat down to dinner, she quite astutely established a live-aution for, as demand for her rejects escalated.  Nothin' like a little pig auction to keep things exciting at the table.

She managed the peeling and de-veining of the shrimp, and the dicing of the meat while I went to work on our vegetable blanching.  Before we knew it she was elbow deep in risotto, ladling in the hot stock like a pro.  A few short minutes later and we had all of our add-ins prepped, our asparagus purée blended and ready to go, and our risotto cooked to perfection!



Garden Green Risotto with Shrimp and Guanciale 

by: Steve Dunn

(Print Friendly Recipe)


  • 1/2 bag of baby spinach 
  • 1 cup of lightly packed, fresh basil leaves 
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, tips removed and reserved, stalks, roughly chopped 
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas 
  • 2 cups arborio rice 
  • 1 medium yellow onion, or 1/2 large vidalia onion, finely diced 
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced 
  • 8 tablespoons butter 
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 1 cup medium diced, guanciale (or thickly cut pancetta) 
  • 16 jumbo shrimp, peeled, de-veined and cut into thirds 
  • 1 cup dry white wine 
  • 5 cups low sodium chicken stock 
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling at service 
  • Juice from 1-2 freshly squeezed lemons 
  • fresh basil and cherry tomatoes for garnish


  1. In a small saucepan, heat the stock until hot, turn the heat to simmer and reserve. 
  2. Heat a large pot of salted water over high heat for blanching the vegetables. Prepare a large bowl of ice water to receive the blanched veggies, and set aside. When the water reaches a rapid boil, work in batches and blanch each of the following in order, placing each into the ice water once just cooked through, but still nicely crisp. First the asparagus tips, then the peas. When these are cooled, remove them to drain and reserve until just before plating. 
  3. Next into the blanching pot are the spinach and basil. Cook them for about a minute before shocking them in the ice water, then move them to a strainer to drain. Finally, cook the chopped asparagus stalks until cooked through, but still a nice bright green. Shock them, drain them and add them to the hopper of a blender along with the spinach, basil and 1/2 cup of the blanching water. Puree on high speed for a few minutes until you have a perfectly smooth and brilliant green veggie puree. Keep covered and reserve. 
  4. In a medium sized skillet, place about 1/2 cup of the stock and reduce until you have just a few tablespoons left in the pan. Turn the heat to low and add 4 tablespoons of the butter in chunks, swirling the pan as you do to create a simple mounted butter sauce. Season the shrimp pieces with salt and pepper and place them in the sauce over a very low heat. Gently cook until the bottom of the shrimp is a pale orange, then flip them and continue to cook until just cooked through.  Don't let them go too long here or they'll over-cook and get tough. Remove the pan from heat and let the shrimp rest there. 
  5. Rinse out the blanching pan and place it back over a medium heat. Cook the guanciale in a fine slick of olive oil until nicely browned, but before it has rendered all of its fat. Remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the balance of the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan drippings, and toss in the minced onion. Saute the onion over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic, stir for about a minute, and then add the rice stirring well until it is fully coated with the oil and butter. Add the cup of wine to the pan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine has evaporated. Add about half of the hot stock and cook, stirring frequently until it has evaporated. Continue to add stock, one cup at a time until it is fully used, or until the rice reaches your desired level of done-ness, you want it to be cooked al dente, with still a toothsome bite.
  6. When the rice is just done, turn the heat to low, toss in the grated cheese and pour in the veggie puree. Add the reserved shrimp (along with the butter sauce in the pan), the guanciale, and the reserved peas and asparagus tips.  Mix well and adjust seasoning, adding salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.  Top with fresh basil leaves and halved, raw cherry tomatoes if you like.

Serves 6-8






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"Oui, Chef" exists as an extension of my efforts to teach my kids a few things about cooking, and how their food choices over time effect not only their own health, but that of our local food communities and our planet at large. By sharing some of our cooking experiences, I hope to inspire other families to start spending more time together in the kitchen, passing on established familial food traditions, and starting some new ones. Read more...
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