A few weeks ago we were staying in Tivoli, and on the advice of a friend we visited Hadrian’s villa. It turned out to be not just a villa but a massive site covering about the same area as the central functions of ancient Rome. It’s in good nick, so you don’t need too much imagination to imagine the luxury in which Hadrian wallowed (wallowed being the word considering the impressive baths there). There is even a beautiful courtyard (more of a football pitch in size) where fountains played as part of a concept to heighten the senses overall and thus further delight the taste buds of the diners… a sort of early synaesthetic approach.

Hadrian's villa

He lived in luxury… pandering to his tastes…

In any case, by the end of it, we were parched and starving, seeking immediate ‘delight’ for our taste buds ourselves. We hung out of the car windows desperately looking for a suitable solution to our needs to no avail. There was nothing for it but to park the car and explore further on foot. Wandering down ancient, narrow alleyways we passed a dark doorway proclaiming itself the entrance to a restaurant… looking in we saw a deserted room and a television flickering to a non-existent audience. It didn’t look promising, but then one of us spotted a sign advertising the fact that the place had an internal garden. It was getting late (well past two) so we decided to give the Boca di Sant’Antonio restaurant a go.

We emerged through the silent, dismal interior into an open air area alive with laughter and conversation. The place was heaving. Chickens were weaving between the feet of the diners. We ordered the lobster risotto and weren’t surprised to find it was sublime. It wasn’t intended as a main course and it was more liquid (somewhere between a firm risotto and a soup) and minus the seafood included in the version below.

For a really substantial main course you could substitute the langoustes suggested below with sea bream fillets baked en papillote with coconut milk and lime. I know it’s not authentically Italian to treat pasta as a sort of potato substitute – but it still works rather well. Rules are made to be broken!

However one rule best not broken is the Italian ban on putting Parmesan on seafood risotto – it overpowers the delicate flavours of the dish.

 

Recipe for Boca di Sant’Antonio Risotto

Serves two plus

  • 200g/1 cup carnaroli risotto rice
  • 2 x 400g tins Baxter lobster bisque; or 840 ml/3½ cups good quality lobster bisque
  • 250g/8 oz cooked seafood – prawns etc
  • 180 ml/¾ cup dry Martini (or white wine would do)
  • 100g/4 oz (two fifths of a brick) butter
  • 1 red onion, peeled and chopped small
  • ⅓ cup/35g/2 heaped tbsp grated parmesan – yes, again, I know it’s not authentically Italian to put Parmesan in a seafood risotto, but it seems to suit it, so break the rules again!
  • Handful of chopped flat-leaved parsley
  • Couple of gorgeous-looking langoustes
  1. seafood risotto recipe

    don’t forget the gorgeous-looking langouste

    In a good, solid Le Creusset-type saucepan fry the onion in half the butter for a couple of minutes, and then add rice for another two or three minutes

  2. Add the vermouth or wine and stir until absorbed
  3. Keep stirring and slowly add the lobster bisque, about half a cup at a time, until it’s all absorbed. If you have an aga you can get away with not going through all that stirring. How? Simply add the hot bisque (get it hot first), bring to the boil, and cover. Then transfer to the simmering oven for about twenty minutes.
  4. Finally add in the seafood and the parmesan
  5. Stir in the rest of the butter
  6. Serve garnished with the parsley and topped with the gorgeous langoustes

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