This recipe is inspired by one of my most favourite fish restaurants in the world, Al Gatto Nero on the island of Burano in the lagoon of Venice. Max the owner’s son has become my friend. The food here is simple and beautifully cooked every time I visit, which I do twice a year if I can, it’s a trip worth making. Ruggero and his wife who run the kitchen never get suckered into being clever, they totally respect the quality of the fresh seafood the fishermen bring them, they are In tune with it and just instinctively know how to prepare each specie according to the season. I think there is a little magic in their kitchen and it’s a great testament to my belief in the simplicity of seafood cookery.

They make a white risotto with a broth made from small goby fish they catch from the mud at low tide around the lagoon, we don’t have that fish here so I made a version with small gurnard and peas, it’s delicious, I’m sure Ruggero, Max and Anna would approve.

Serves 4

Ingredients

Olive oil
1 leek , finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic – peeled and finely chopped
200 ml / 7 fl oz dry white wine
1 kg / 2lb whole gurnards gutted with the heads removed, there is little goodness in the head as it is virtually armour plated
150 g / 5 oz shell-on small frozen Greenland prawns (these add a richness to the stock)
1 bay leaf
Sprig thyme
25 g / 1 oz butter
I onion, finely chopped
400 g / 14 oz risotto rice
100 g / 4 oz fresh or frozen peas
Few cubes of cold butter
Small handful chopped fennel herb or parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

First make the stock by adding a little olive oil to a pan large enough to take the fish and gently fry the leeks, celery and one clove of garlic and just soften it but don’t let it brown.  After 3-4 minutes add ¾ of the wine then the fish, prawns, bay leaf and thyme and cover with water and simmer gently for 40 minutes, the fish should break up.

 

Place a conical strainer over another pan and ladle the contents of the stock pan into it pressing down as hard as you can to squeeze any juice from the fish, discard the fish and vegetables after you have pressed them.

 

Place the stock over a gentle heat and start to make the risotto in a wide pan. First melt the butter then add the onion and other clove of garlic and soften, add the rice and fry for a minute or two until the rice looks transparent around the edges, this should only be a few minutes.

 

Add the remaining wine and when it has nearly evaporated add the hot stock ladle by ladle stirring the rice as you add it, keep doing this until the rice is cooked and season as you go. (The texture of risotto is important and the rice should just have a bite to it, it should not be chalky or hard and neither like rice pudding, you will know when it is right).

 

Add the peas a few minutes before the risotto is finished and then remove the pan from the heat and rest it for a few minutes then whisk in a few small cubes of cold butter and the fresh herbs, give it a final season and serve. I prefer a risotto slightly wet so when you put a heap onto a plate and shake it backwards and forwards gently until it falls into a comforting layer across the plate.