Friday, July 10, 2009

A Poet's Gift: Carolyn Forche's Seafood Risotto

One of the greatest blessings of working where I work is the exposure to brilliant writers. For a few years, I was fortunate to work with noted poet Carolyn Forché. I found her to be a vibrant woman who was effusive in her love of family, friends, students, and colleagues. Because she was commuting between Saratoga Springs and her home in Maryland, I had never become aware of her love of cooking. When I was writing a paper on women and food memories, she shared this lovely recipe for seafood risotto. Carolyn writes a recipe the same way she writes poetry, with a lyrical flow and vibrant imagery. With gratitude to Carolyn for her very generous contribution to my paper and for her friendship, I offer you her recipe for Seafood Risotto:

“In the summer of my twenty-seventh year, I lived in the village of Deya on the island of Mallorca in Spain. I was translating the work of poet Claribel Alegría, who was living in a house called “Can Blau Vell” on a cobbled street opposite the “torrente,” a rushing stream banked with morning glories. In Deya I learned to prepare seafood well for the first time: to clean squid and “gambas,” (shrimp) and to sauté them quickly in a little olive oil, then toss with sea salt, pepper and lemon, while the sea-wind of the Mediterranean washed through my kitchen. I cooked with the blue-shuttered windows open, so that I could hear the goat bells clanking up and down the goat-paths, and could smell the lemons ripening in the orchard below us. Paella, a rice dish prepared variously around the Mediterranean was quite a feast, but took hours to prepare, and so we only made it once or twice. Paella was cooked in a large flat pan that resembled a frying pan with small handles. One was supposed to let the rice be still, so that it would toast on the bottom, and there would be a nice crunch to the rice. I was supposed to be translating and writing poetry, so instead of paella, I improvised. This recipe evolved during those afternoons when I longed for the elaborate paella but had no time. Now this risotto has a place in my heart on its own. It is unusual risotto, in that it begins with a sofrito of onion, tomato, garlic and paprika, much like the base for paella, but it is simpler, and can be assembled in a half hour or so. Any seafood (squid? mussels?) can be imagined for this risotto, but I like the combination of shrimp and bay scallops. You can garnish this with slices of lemon. It’s nice with a salad of mesclun and vinaigrette and a sparkling sauvignon blanc. When I prepare this, the scent of the torrente’s morning glories returns, and I am twenty-seven years old again.”

3 T. Olive oil
½ c. Yellow onions or shallots, finely diced
1 Whole tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 clove Garlic
1 t. Sweet paprika, or, preferably, Spanish smoked paprika
Course salt and crushed pepper
1/3 c. White wine, dry
1 c. Shrimp broth (boil shrimp shells in 2 cups water and reduce)
5 c. Chicken broth (low sodium, organic if possible)
1 ½ c. Arborio rice
½ lb. Bay scallops
½ lb. Medium or Large (U-24) shrimp, cleaned and de-veined
½ c. Flat leaf parsley, loosely packed, chopped
1 pat Unsalted butter

Sauté the onions in the olive oil until golden (not brown), about ten minutes on medium low. Add crushed garlic and sauté for one minute. Add diced tomatoes and sauté for at least fifteen minutes, until you have what is called a “sofrito,” or base. Mixture should be rich. Add paprika. Add rice and coat with sofrito base. Then, little by little, perhaps a cup at a time, add the broths, stirring almost constantly, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid. With the last cup of broth, add the shrimp and scallops. Cook for five minutes until shrimp are pink. Add the parsley and pat of butter and mix together. Serve. (4 servings)

You can read more about Carolyn Forché and her poetry here:

Next post: More from Meadow Hill B&B! Plan ahead for company - blueberry cream cheese coffee cake squares that you can bake and serve or freeze for another time. It thaws beautifully.

Photo credit:


  1. You'll note that nowhere in the recipe does it say when to add the wine. Sharon made it and added it with the sofrito. I suggest doing that, or throwing back a few glugs as you try to figure out where it goes!

  2. Wow..
    what a beautiful recipe. I can't wait to try it...who knows, maybe I'll hear goat bells too! I feel 'carried away' by her story. Simply lovely!