This risotto is the essence of the seaside, and can be made with any number of shellfish. I use Manila clams (which you can get small), mussels, and either tiny bay shrimp or the boreal pink shrimp that live off both coasts of Canada. You also could use bay scallops, crayfish, bits of crab or lobster, limpets, periwinkles, or really any other shellfish you feel like using.
The keys to this risotto are a perfectly fresh broth, great seafood and the proper rice. I follow the Italian example and use Vialone Nano risotto rice with this recipe. It is the traditional rice to use with a seafood risotto, and it is spectacular: tiny, stubby grains that seem to have twice as much creamy starch as a typical Carnaroli risotto rice. Must you buy Vialone Nano? No, but the dish won't be as good. What you must do is use a short-grained rice—long grained rice will not work here. Trust me.
The only persnickety part of this recipe is picking out the meat from all those tiny clams. But the end result is worth it, as the risotto would be the devil to eat if you had shells in there.
Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer course
• 1 heaping cup Vialone Nano risotto rice, or other short-grain rice
• 1 cup white wine
• 2 pounds small Manila clams
• ½ pound mussels
• ¼ pound tiny bay or pink shrimp
• 1 finely chopped shallot
• 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
• 1 to 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 chopped carrots
• 2 chopped celery stalks
• ½ onion, finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 2 bay leaves