A tribute to nana Anna

Risotto with prawns

A couple of years back, I wrote about my first experience making risotto and how scary it had been. I now make it quite often as a “quick” dish for last minute guests. Such thing happened last Friday, when my friend Segolène stopped by for lunch at the very last minute (which I love). I had just come back from the Farmers’ Market with 3 HUGE prawns that were begging for a soft and creamy bed of rice. Making such dishes (risotto, pasta, meatballs…) always reminds me of my Italian nana Anna. She passed when I was still young, but I loved her dearly and I have great memories of her food…

Nana Anna

The only thing to really worry about when making risotto (besides the quality of your ingredients of course) is the cooking time. Italians swear by al dente, but I do not like my rice to be crunchy… Even worse is when the risotto looks like a messy soup (just watch any episode of Hell’s Kitchen with Ramsey and you’ll see what I mean). So, as I mentioned to you before, I follow THE golden rule: STAYING ON TOP OF ONE’S PAN! Never leave the stove, not even for a minute (30 seconds may be OK :0)! Then after twenty minutes, start tasting the rice regularly. At 25 minutes on low heat, that’s when mine is usually perfect. Still al dente but cooked all the way through. Not at all crunchy but not too soft either. Creamy but not swimming in a messy glue. One should be able to feel each single grain on one’s tongue. It should just melt away in your mouth. Perfection! Absolute perfection. To this, add the shrimp lightly seared in olive oil and a few sautés mushrooms and you become an instant hero in your guests’ eyes :0) Just kidding!

Shrimp risottoThe Italian family

For 4 people:

  1. In a saucepan, sauté 1 chopped onion in 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 of olive oil. Stir for about 2 minutes. The onion becomes translucent
  2. Add 250g of round Italian rice (or risotto rice) and stir on low heat for about 2 minutes. Everyone tells you that it must turn translucent, it was not the case here…
  3. Add 1 small glass of dry white wine and stir well (I use Graves or Pessac Léognan)
  4. When the rice has absorbed all the wine, start adding hot broth one ladle at a time. I used chicken broth this time. The whole idea is to add a ladle after another gradually as the rice absorbs the broth (I actually put two at a time all the way to minute 18). You will keep stirring almost constantly for the next 20 to 25 minutes on low to medium heat
  5. Towards the 20th minute, add a big teaspoon of minced garlic, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning and/or cooking time. In the meantime, you will have butterflied and sauté your prawns in olive oil.
  6. Just before serving, add 300g of mushrooms that you will have browned separately with shallots and deglazed with a splash of Madeira. Also add the shrimp and whatever fresh green herb you have laying around (parsley, chives, sage…)

As I mentioned in my older post, what’s great about risotto is that as long as you follow steps 1 to 5 above to the letter, you can’t really mess it up. The versatility of the dish is also legendary. Depending on the kind of stock you use, the combinations are simply limitless: asparagus, mushrooms, lobster, duck confit… For 30 minutes of work in the kitchen, it is unbeatable!

Shrimp risotto

Note: Please do not use instant rice for risotto. I know we’re all busy, but 30 minutes of your time is not the end of the world. Great dishes often take time :0) Just shave the half hour off your gym time :0) I know I shave everything off my workout time, even the time I need to go to the pastry shop :0) Priorities people!

Mom and MémèreRisotto with prawnsNana Anna and me

Regarding the pictures of nana Anna in this post: The second one is with her family just a few years after they immigrated to France (she’s on the right above her dad). The third one is with my mom on her right (keep in mind mom is now 83). The fourth one is with baby me. The last one is the last picture we have of nana Anna… (we called her Mémère by the way, which to us meant “sweet mother”)

marianne memere 13-56-30

I love my great grand mother’s face/expression on that family picture. She looked so kind. Life had been quite hard on her… I wish I’d known her too! Her name was Maria.

Great grandma Maria

68 Comments Add yours

  1. Hello. Your recipe looks tasty and image of dish is very clear and nice.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thank you so much Mojgan!! I really appreciate you kind comment. Be well!

  2. Well, I now understand your connection to my Proustian Pretzel. Your grandmother’s photographs are priceless – I’m sure you treasure them as I do mine. Years ago, there was a wonderful Italian chef on TV (before FoodTV) named Biba Caggiano. Do you remember her? She made risotta often and exactly as you do. I learned from her and now cannot imagine not having risotto in my repertoire. Lovely post.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Risotto is, to me, one of the ultimate comfort foods. Soul food as they say in the South 😉

  3. natasha says:

    Your blog is so inspiring…thank you…

  4. mariekeates says:

    What lovely memories and it is so lovely you think of her when you make those dishes.

  5. What lovely family photographs. I’m totally with you on the half hour thing. So many people moan they have no time to cook, yet will happily sit by the TV waiting half an hour or more for a pizza delivery or standing bored in the fish and chip shop queue. Give me your risotto any day!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I’m glad you agree my dear. It’s just a question of priorities I guess. Clearly mine is food 😉 Thanks for dropping by!! 🙂

  6. Lynda says:

    What a beautiful post – lovely old BW family photos and delicious food – two of my favorite things! Ps – I’m scared of making risotto too. Maybe I’ll overcome this fear like you did one day! 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Don’t be scared!!! Follow my instructions and you’ll do great!! 😉

    2. My French Heaven says:

      Also, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Waste 2 dollars worth of rice?…

      1. Lynda says:

        Good point! 😊

  7. Love the photos. She sounds like a lovely woman and your risotto sounds divine. I do love risotto!


    1. My French Heaven says:

      I think it’s the ultimate comfort food 😉

  8. Luffy Moogan says:

    Looks perfect, Stephane. And such lovely family photos – you’re very lucky to have such memories 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I do feel very lucky indeed Luffy. I am especially glad that I took the time a few years back to scan all of our family photos… Thanks for dropping by 😉

      1. Luffy Moogan says:

        I drop by often: only sorry that I don’t leave as many comments as I’d like. Your blog is an inspiration!

        1. My French Heaven says:

          And yours inspires me. I think we have very similar values and that’s probably why I like you and what you share so much…

          1. Luffy Moogan says:

            Awwww, that’s so sweet – thank you! All power to we people that value the real things in life and appreciate every day!

          2. My French Heaven says:

            We are so wonderful aren’t we. Sometimes I think we are so awesome I can hardly stand it… 🙂

          3. Luffy Moogan says:

            It’s tough, but someone has to do it….!

          4. My French Heaven says:


  9. Farmgirl says:

    I love the pictures of your grandmas. Your great grandma does look so sweet and content. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to have a meal with all of them? I, too, wrote a post about risotto. It is just so easy and delicious, yet always impressive. Thank you for sharing with us!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      A dinner party with all my favorite ghosts. That would be fantastic!! although I’m pretty sure my other grandmother is still living in the hallways of my house…

  10. gypsygurl64 says:

    Love it! I’m an amateur genealogist so I LOVED the photo’s of your family. I adore anything that has to do with someone’s family history. Love reading your blog! 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thank you so so much! I am so happy to know that these old photos and the people in it can still have a positive impact… 🙂

  11. Conor Bofin says:

    You are a man after my own heart. The only way to cook a risotto is to stand over it and lovingly stir and add the stock. It takes time but, it is very relaxing and rewarding. Beautiful story and presentation. That is a fine tribute.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thanks Conor! Someone suggested to add a second glass of wine to the recipe. One for the rice and the other one to pass the time while stiring 😉

      1. Conor Bofin says:

        I am an exponent of this approach.

  12. Meggie says:

    “Not at all crunchy but not too soft either. Creamy but not swimming in a messy glue. One should be able to feel each single grain on one’s tongue.” For me, those words add a sensual dimension to the dish and really make my mouth water. I know what I’ll cook for dinner today, a dish where you can feel each single grain on your tongue, creamy but not gluey, not crunchy but not to soft either, just “lagom”. Thanks! 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thanks Maggie! I must admit I had to look u the word “lagom”, and yes, a properly cooked risotto is “lagom” indeed 🙂 Thanks for your lovely comment!!

  13. What a lovely post to read Stéphane. Your nana Anna sounds like a wonderful woman… so sweet to pay tribute to both her and her Italian heritage. Stunning photos as always and know that I would adore this risotto… something I need to cook more often. Bonne journée!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Risotto rules 😉 Thanks for dropping by again. Your comments always mean a lot to me 🙂

  14. Lovely shots. I make risotto like this very often ( I haven’t added the prawns yet, for which idea I thank you) and have exactly the same view on making it as yourself. It might be risotto tonight:)

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thanks Roger! Enjoy!!

  15. Lignum Draco says:

    Great food photography as usual but the photos and reminiscences about your grandmother are special.

    1. My French Heaven says:


  16. Thanks for sharing such a lovely post!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      My pleasure! Thanks for dropping by!!

  17. ladyredspecs says:

    Risotto is my ultimate comfort too. Yours look like a great big hug from your Nana. Call me sentimental, but food with provenance always tastes batter. You are so lucky to have those old family photos!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I like that “food with provenance”! And you are, as always, right on the money 😉

  18. Angeline M says:

    This post is going right in to my recipe file that I keep online. Delicious, and it sounds like even I can make it…I will watch my minutes closely. That first glass of wine you mentioned, I thought was to drink as you stir 🙂
    I do indeed have my priorities you know!
    I love your family photos..

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thank you so much dear Angeline! You are right, the recipe begs for a second glass of wine! One needs something to do while string 🙂

  19. You enjoy your risotto exactly as I! And I fully agree about staying on top of one’s pan! This is such a wonderful post. I love the photographs of your family and you as a baby! I was so taken aback of the photograph of your nana Anna’s family! I was immediately drawn to the woman in the black hat. And then you mentioned her at the end of your post. Seriously, I feel like your great grandmother Maria and I look astonishingly alike! It’s incredible.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Incredible indeed! I never knew Maria, but I really wish I did. Oh the stories she could have shared…

  20. P.S. You are of course absolutely correct the rice should not be crunchy. That is usually a sign that the rice has not been stirred correctly (cooked unevenly) or simply too briefly. Al dente yes, but that is not the same as crunchy.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I also hate it when the whole thing is soupy. Most restaurants make a terrible risotto…

      1. You are correct! I’m leaving for Italy on Friday and it will be my mission to order risotto in a good restaurant. The last time I ordered risotto in Italy, it was made with stock from a bouillon cube and tasted absolutely terrible. The problem is of course that making risotto the traditional way is unpractical for a restaurant.

        1. My French Heaven says:

          That’s exactly what I think! They make a batch in advance and it all ends up a big old mess… Enjoy Italy!

          1. Thanks! The only ‘crunchy’ risotto I’ve ever had was in a very fancy and very expensive restaurant in Chicago called Tru, where the waiter spoke with a fake French accent (white wine was “vah blah”).

  21. Great tribute to your “nonna”. I love risotto and your recipe is of course perfect. Shrimp risotto is even better when you use the shrimp heads and shells to make the stock — such a lot of flavor. By the way, when toasting the rice, only the edges of the grains of rice become translucent.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      You know I almost made a fish stock but was worried about a fishy flavor. I may mix fish and chicken next time… You know I sucked on the heads on the side. It’s my favorite part! 😉

      1. The flavor will be very shrimpy when you make a shrimp stock, but I like it that way. You could indeed use half vegetable stock or chicken stock for a version that is not as outspoken. I love shrimp risotto with lime juice and a glass of good Sancerre…

  22. These photos are priceless, as your are your memories of your Italian-born Nana. I love the look of this dish; I could really eat prawns at every meal. When I’m with child, every seafood makes me sick: except for shrimp and prawns. 🙂 I am also relieved that you don’t enjoy “crunchy” rice, either…I thought I was a culinary rebel or idiot (preferably the former!); now I feel comforted. 🙂 This post was rich with memories, family and storytelling. I loved it!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I too could have shrimp for breakfast lunch and dinner 😉 Thanks for visiting again dear Shanna! Your readership means a lot!!

  23. Kellee says:

    I too was intimidated by risotto. But it was surprisingly easy.. as long as I followed the rule to “stay on top of the pan” and I had a delicious and fancy dish in less than 45 minutes 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      It really is easy when you follow the steps. Thanks for dropping by Kellee!

  24. juliabarrett says:

    How beautiful. It seems to me your nana was always smiling. And I like the prawns. 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      She was indeed always smiling… The ideal grandma….

  25. Lisa says:

    Your risotto and prawns look amazingly good! I absolutely love your family photos! Hugz Lisa and Bear

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thanks a lot Lisa! That means a lot 🙂

  26. Daria says:

    This is an amazing tribute and the recipe all together, thank you for sharing. And your great grandmother does look very kind and loving. 🙂 I just love your blog btw, it is so inspirational and makes me miss my home country (Russia) even more…

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Thanks Daria! I am glad you like the blog! I hope you stop by again soon!!

  27. msshe says:

    Elle est belle votre grand mere…et votre risoto aussi.
    J’adore le risoto.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      A good risotto always makes me feel better 😉 The perfect comfort food! Thanks for stopping by 😉

  28. A tribute to grandma is always a great post in my book! 🙂 Ma mamie est décédée l’année dernière, en France.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Oh je suis désolé pour votre grand mère. C’est vrai qu’elles nous ont beaucoup apporté…

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