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Lemon and asparagus risotto with seared scallops

Recipes that call for a constant stove-side vigil, stirring continuously are not most people’s idea of fun. However, when the weekend rolls around, I love nothing better than a slow cooked casserole, pie or roast. A Sunday evening favourite of mine is risotto. Yes, I know risotto is the epitome of food babysitting, but hear me out on this one because it’s worth the care and attention it demands.

If you approach a risotto with the right attitude, you will be rewarded with a dish that is heart warming and fragrant with a depth of flavour enough that it will stand on its own two feet unlike many other dishes which don’t look complete without ye olde faithful sidekicks mashed spud and leafy greens.

For me, making risotto is relaxing. I love the crackle of the rice hitting the pan, the delicious perfume released by the wine as it hurries to catch the sizzling rice and the therapeutic ritual of a ladle of rich stock, gently stirred until absorbed followed by another ladle, stir, ladle and stir. It’s reassuringly repetitive and extremely rewarding if you’re prepared to be patient and attentive.

There are a few key things to making a risotto. Firstly, the quality of ingredients is vital because there is nowhere to hide in a dish that is all about flavour. The most important being a great stock. I tend to only make risotto when I know I have some homemade stock on hand but a good quality liquid version from the supermarket is a good second choice. Don’t use stock cubes though, they just won’t cut it.

Of course proper risotto rice goes without saying – arborio or carnaroli and last but not least there are two important technical things to remember. Firstly, sautéing the onion and celery over a very gentle heat is crucial so that they soften without colouring. Secondly,  not being too vigorous with your stirring. Gently stir in the same direction or even just ‘agitate’ the pan. You just want to ensure that the rice fully absorbs the stock before you add the next ladle without either the rice or vegetables catching. If you over stir, your risotto will be on the gluggy side which is not the result you’re after. Except for increasing the temperature when you add the wine, the entire process of cooking risotto is gentle.

This simple, zesty risotto is perfect on its own. However, asparagus and of course lemon are great partners with any shellfish and as we’d just picked up some fresh, hand dived scallops from our local farmers market, this risotto got a wee upgrade. If you don’t want to add shellfish, double the quantity of parmesan.

Lemon and asparagus risotto with seared scallops (serves 4)
 
Ingredients:
– 850ml vegetable or chicken stock
– olive oil
– half an onion, peeled and sliced finely
– 2-3 sticks of celery, sliced finely
– 300g risotto rice
– 1/2 cup of dry white wine
– 1 bunch of asparagus, chopped into 1cm wide pieces, leaving the spears intact
– 50g butter
– 1 handful of grated fresh parmesan cheese
– juice and zest of one lemon
– salt and cracked black pepper
– 1 dozen fresh scallops
– sprinkling of chopped parsley or coriander

1. Bring 500mls of the stock to a simmer in a small saucepan.

2. While the stock is heating up, add 1 tablespoon of oil to a large pan and add the onion and celery. Over a low heat, gently saute the vege until soft but not coloured. This will take about 15 minutes.

3. Once the onion and celery have softened, turn up the heat and add the rice. It will sizzle as it starts to fry so keep it moving so it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan.

4. After a minute or so, the rice will turn translucent. At this point add the wine. The wine will puff and release a lovely fragrance as the alcohol burns off.

5. Wait until the rice has absorbed all of the wine then reduce the heat and start adding the stock, ladle by ladle, gently stirring and waiting for the rice to fully absorb each ladle of stock before adding the next.

6. Keep adding the stock until the rice is just al dente, with a slight bite to it. You don’t want to over cook the rice. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add boiling water. The rice will take between 10-15 minutes to cook.

7. Once the rice is al dente, heat half of the remaining stock in another large pot and add all of the rice along with the asparagus. Bring the risotto up to a gently boil stirring the rice continuously.

8. Add the rest of the stock ladle by ladle. Keep tasting the rice though so that you don’t over cook it. You might not need all of the stock.

9. Turn off the heat and with a wooden spoon, beat in the parmesan, butter and most of the lemon zest and juice. This is what makes the risotto nice and creamy. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Then put a lid on and let the risotto rest while you cook the scallops.

10. In a fry pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Pat dry the scallops, give them a light season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and add to the pan. After 1 minute, turn the scallops over and squeeze some lemon juice over them for extra flavour. After no more than 1 more minute, they will be done. You’re looking for a nice caramelised golden brown colour. Remove from the heat.

11. Divide the risotto between serving bowls, placing a few scallops on top. Sprinkle with the rest of the lemon zest and juice and the parsley and serve with a lovely glass of the leftover wine!

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