Dishes to flood your senses

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Recently, I had the house to myself for a couple of nights, and I took it as an excuse to cook some really excellent food no one else who lives there would enjoy as much as I would: weird ingredients, intense flavors and smooth, creamy textures.

Among perfectly toasted egg wraps full of rich avocado and tangy salsa, a pizza with roasted fennel and ham, and superfood-decked chia oatmeal, a risotto I made during this glorious cooking period stands out. Flavored with turmeric and saffron, it's nice and starchy like a risotto should be, but with delicate, warm flavors that really flood the senses.

I marinated shrimp in a honey-harissa mix that is equal parts sweet and spicy — as the shrimp cook, the marinade becomes a glistening, syrupy coating. When these pretty red shrimp rest in this yellow risotto, it's magic, and the way the flavors marry in the dish is magic, too.

You can find fresh turmeric — maybe even local fresh turmeric — at a store like Guido's or Wild Oats, or maybe at a winter farmers market, though winter-storage local goods are usually running out this time of year. I used powdered turmeric, which worked just as well.

Turmeric/saffron risotto

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup Arborio rice

2 tablespoons butter

5 to 6 cups broth of any kind (mine was a homemade chicken/vegetable hybrid)*

1 shallot, chopped

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 teaspoon powdered saffron or a large pinch of saffron threads

1 tsp powdered or fresh turmeric

Salt and pepper

cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

* If you have no broth, take the time to boil an onion and some garlic, and whatever else you might have around — I had parsley and a carrot — in water for 20 minutes. Makes a difference.

DIRECTIONS:

Get all ingredients ready; heat butter in a heavy-bottom pot until melted. Toss in shallot and garlic with some salt and pepper, and cool 1 to 2 minutes before adding turmeric and saffron. Cook until soft, another three minutes or so. Add rice and stir to coat it in the spice/butter mix, around 2 minutes until rice is nice and glossy.

Add broth by the 1/2 cup, stirring continuously, waiting for each 1/2 cup of broth to be absorbed by rice. You want a nice, thick starchiness to develop here. When rice is soft, with just a little tension in the middle of the grains, stir in Parmesan and salt/pepper to taste. Top with shrimp.

Sweet harissa shrimp

INGREDIENTS:

20 to 30 small-to-medium shrimp, defrosted, peeled and deveined

1 1/2 teaspoon harissa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons broth

1 1/2 teaspoon honey

DIRECTIONS:

Combine harissa, salt, turmeric, olive oil, broth and honey until fully incorporated. Let shrimp marinate in harissa mix for 20 to 30 minutes.

Heat a pan to medium-high, and add shrimp and all remaining harissa liquids. Cook until done, watching closely to make sure not to overcook.


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