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by Paul Mccabe, Executive Chef, Kitchen 1540

I grew up in a family where my mom didn’t work out of the home. She was a good country cook — actually, one of the last. I mean, she was up at 4 a.m. making her own bread, which she would turn into French toast for us. She made all of her own preserves and jams and pickled everything. That’s just how we grew up and that was the work ethic back then. Today, she still raises cattle. Out of all the kids, I was the one who was really intrigued by what she was doing in the kitchen. I was the one wondering, “How does bread rise?” and I really fed off her passion for food.

After high school I had an opportunity to apprentice at L’Ermitage restaurant in Los Angeles with Chef Michel Blanchet. I almost went to CIA in upstate New York, but I dropped everything for the chance to work with Michel. He gave me my platform. I’m really into modern cooking techniques but ultimately I’m rooted in flavor. For me, it’s all about the ingredients. It sounds hokey, but products, products, products. Ultimately, they speak to what the dish will become.

For example, at the restaurant we make our own charcuterie and salami, but with a twist. We’re making duck prosciutto and foie gras bratwurst. We take popcorn and freeze it in liquid nitrogen and then run it through the juicer and serve it with scallops. I like popcorn. You can eat popcorn on the couch or at the movies. And I like to take the pretense out of food. I put Pop Rocks on foie gras.

Usually on the weekends, several families go to someone’s home and we all bring food and drink beer and the kids all run around. There is a Thai fried rice I make that my friends really love. I’m usually asked to bring baby back ribs or that Thai fried rice. I also have a great recipe for a pea risotto with rice. I like to put the risotto into mushrooms and stand the shrimp on top. I’ve made that for friends and it’s great as an appetizer or an hors d’oeuvre.

INGREDIENTS

Serves 4–6 as appetizer (with leftover risotto for future side dish); minus optional shrimp and mushrooms, serves 6 as side dish or pasta course.

Shrimp (Optional)

  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)
  • G c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1T. fresh thyme (chopped)
  • 12 large Mexican white shrimp
  • Mushrooms (Optional)
  • 12 cremini mushrooms
  • 3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • salt and pepper

For the Risotto

  • 3 good handfuls fresh peas
  • 5 c. chicken stock, divided use (substitute vegetable broth for vegetarian version)
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 3 shallots or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 14 oz. arborio rice
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 wine glasses dry vermouth or dry white wine
  • 2 H oz. butter
  • 3 H oz. freshly grated Parmesan
  • H handful mint, chopped
  • 1 T.lemon juice, or to taste

To make the shrimp:

The night before, combine garlic, oil, and thyme, toss the shrimp in the marinade, and refrigerate over night. When ready to prepare the meal, season shrimp with salt and pepper and sauté in olive oil over medium heat until the shrimp begin to turn pink. Do not overcook. Set aside.

To make the mushrooms:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss mushrooms with oil, garlic, salt, and pepper and roast for 10 minutes.

To make the risotto:

  1. Cook peas in 1 cup of boiling stock. When the peas are tender, drain, puree in a food processor and set aside.
  2. Stage 1. Heat remaining 4 cups of stock over medium heat — not boiling. In a separate pan, heat the olive oil, add the shallots or onion and garlic and slowly sauté for about 3 minutes. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice, season with salt and pepper, and turn up the heat.
  3. Stage 2. The rice will now begin to fry, so keep stirring it. After a minute it will look slightly translucent having absorbed all the flavors from the vegetables. Add the vermouth or wine and keep stirring. Any harsh alcohol flavors will evaporate and leave the rice with the essence of the wine.
  4. Stage 3. Once the vermouth or wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn down the heat to a medium simmer so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly on the outside. Keep adding ladles of stock, stirring and allowing each ladle of liquid to be absorbed before adding the next. This will take about 15 minutes. Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. Don’t forget to carefully check the seasoning.
  5. Stage 4. Remove from heat and add the butter, Parmesan, mint, a squeeze of lemon juice, and the pea purée. Stir gently. Place lid on pan and allow to sit for 2 to 3 minutes. This is the most important part of making the risotto, as this is when it becomes creamy like it should be. Eat as soon as possible while the risotto retains its perfect texture.

To assemble:

Place three mushrooms cap-side down on a rectangular plate and fill the cavity with risotto. Place one shrimp on top of the mushroom and continue the process with all 12 shrimp. Drizzle the plate with basil oil and serve.

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