Recipe: Black Rice with Shrimp, Guanciale, and Rosemary
About a week ago I had a very frustrating dream. I was trying to scoop up buckets of something that looked like black pebbles, but I couldn’t get it into my bucket. It kept falling all around. I just couldn’t scoop it up. It fell off my shovel and slipped through my fingers. At some point I realized that what I thought were pebbles were actually beautiful shiny black rice kernels. That made me even more frustrated, knowing that this was something beautiful and delicious to eat and I couldn’t have it. When I woke up, I contemplated my dream and wondered if it could have anything to do with the coming presidential election. Then I remembered that Gustiamo.com, the Italian specialty food company, sells a black rice from the Piemonte region of Italy. I had never tried it, but now I felt I had to have it, right away. I may have even felt somehow that if I had it and cooked it I could in some small way affect the outcome of the presidential election. Desperate people sometimes come up with odd thoughts. I went ahead and ordered the black rice, along with a half dozen boxes of Latini pasta, my absolute favorite dried pasta (Gustiamo is one of the only places I know of that carry it). I received the rice a few days later. It looked just like in my dream, blackish purple, shiny, and lovely. I was inordinately excited.
The black rice I bought from Gustiamo comes from a company called Crespi, run by a family in Piemonte that has been cultivating and processing rice since 1821. Nero Venere is what they call this gorgeous variety. It means black Venus. It’s a short-grain rice, but not in the risotto style, since it doesn’t throw off a lot of starch. It cooks up firm, turning from black to a stunning cordovan color. It smells nutty and minerally while cooking. When I looked it up on the Crespi website I found that it contains all sorts of healthy minerals, including iron, zinc, selenium, calcium, and magnesium, but that wasn’t what I was focusing on. I wanted to cook something wonderful with it. I immediately thought seafood, probably because it reminded me of rice colored with squid ink. I decided on shrimp and took it from there. The recipe came out fine, really fine. My husband and I ate it for dinner two nights before the election. Did my recipe sway the results just a little bit? I hope so.
Black Rice with Shrimp, Guanciale, and Rosemary
(Serves 4 as a main course)
2 cups Italian black rice
Extra-virgin olive oil
1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, saving the shells
¼ cup dry white wine
2 approximately 1/8 inch thick slices guanciale, cut into small dice
1 celery rib, cut into small dice, plus a handful of celery leaves, lightly chopped, for garnish
1 large shallot, cut into small dice
A small branch of rosemary, the leaves chopped
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1½ pints grape tomatoes
A few generous pinches of dried ground chili, medium-hot (I used Piment D’Espelette, a sweet Basque chili; Aleppo from Syria would also be wonderful)
A splash of brandy
Place the rice in a large pot. Cover it with abundant water, at least 5 inches. Season with salt. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to medium, partially cover the pot, and cook at a medium boil until the rice is just tender, about 35 minutes. (The package says 45 minutes, but the way I chose to cook it, sort of like pasta, it didn’t take that long.) It will change from black to a dark cordovan color and start to burst just a bit. Drain the rice well, and toss it with a drizzle of olive oil.
In a small saucepan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium flame, and add the shrimp shells. Sauté the shells until they turn pink. Add the white wine, and let it boil until almost evaporated. Add enough water to just cover the shells. Boil uncovered until reduced by half, about 5 or 6 minutes. Strain the broth into a small cup, and season with salt. You should have about half a cup. Boil it down a little further if you have more (this will also up its flavor).
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the guanciale, and sauté until it’s just starting to get crisp. Add the celery, the shallot, and half of the rosemary, and sauté a minute or two longer, just until the vegetables soften. Add the garlic and the grape tomatoes, and turn up the heat a little. Season with salt and a generous pinch of hot pepper, and sauté until the tomatoes just start to burst and give off juice, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down, add the rice and the shrimp broth, and simmer to blend all the flavors, about 3 or 4 minutes. Your rice should remain just a touch liquidy.
In another skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat. Add the shrimp and the rest of the rosemary, season with salt and a bit more hot chili, and sear quickly until the shrimp is pink and just tender. Add the brandy, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Pour the shrimp, with all its pan juices, in with the rice. Simmer a minute to blend the flavors. Pour the rice onto a warmed serving platter, and garnish with the celery leaves.