Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pan-Seared Scallops and Leek Risotto (and Blackberry Vinaigrette)

Scallops and Leek Risotto

Now that spring is in full swing, Steven and I reenrolled in our CSA program from last year. It was definitely a good decision because our first box had lots of goodies, including sugar snap peas, my all-time favorite vegetable, leek, strawberries, and salad mix just to name a few. Since the quarter just started, I don't have to study 24/7 just yet, or at least I don't think I have to study... Of course I could be very delusional and falling behind as we speak. But while I'm still procrastinating, at least I have time to make a nice meal. And when it comes to risotto, you need plenty of time.

Back in the good old days of only working part time, I had the time and patience to pull up a chair next to the stove and just sit there stirring absentmindedly. But nowadays life is way more frenetic and I have to be multitasking at least three things or I feel unproductive, which means I no longer tend so diligently to the risotto. I know you're technically supposed to stir risotto for the entire cooking time, but luckily I discovered, it's not the end of the world if you do stop. I know Marcella Hazan would be very disappointed but honestly, who has the time to sit around and stir a pot of rice for 30 minutes. While the risotto was cooking, I: put away the dishes, stirred, washed the dishes, stirred, cleaned the kitchen, stirred, made the dressing, stirred, cooked the scallops, yeah you get the idea. The risotto was maybe slightly less creamy but I couldn't tell. (From watching all those seasons of Top Chef, I just know that it's cheating to add cream to risotto, downright culinary sin!) And after you add the cheese and butter it's all good to me.

I would normally welcome leftovers, but risotto is something that just doesn't reheat well, so I scaled the recipe down for two, but feel free to double it for 4.
Leek and Bacon Risotto
*note: omit the bacon for a vegetarian version

2 slices regular thickness bacon or 1 slice thick cut bacon *omit and replace with 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil for vegetarian
1 leek, white and light green part only thinly sliced and washed
1 C arborio or carnaroli rice (do not rinse!)
1/4 C dry white wine
2 1/2 - 3 C homemade chicken stock
1/4 C freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 Tbsp butter

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a low simmer and keep it warm.

In a large heavy bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium low heat until crisp and the fat has rendered. Turn up the heat to medium and add the leeks and a pinch of salt. Cook until the leeks have softened. Add the rice and cook the rice until the rice is evenly coated in the fat and toasty. You will be able to see an outer opaque ring around a white center on the rice grains.

Add the white wine and cook until it has absorbed. Reduce the heat to medium low and add a half cup of the chicken stock and freshly ground black pepper to taste. At a low simmer, cook the rice, while stirring continuously, until all of the stock has been absorbed. Add another half cup of stock and stir continuously. Repeat adding the stock and stirring continuously until the rice is al dente. You may not need all of the stock, or if you find yourself running low on stock, use some hot water. Start tasting the rice after 20 minutes of cooking. It should be tender with a slight firm bite in the center. When the risotto is finished cooking, take it off heat. It will be creamy, moist, and somewhat runny but it will thicken after adding the cheese and while it cools.

Off heat, stir in the Parmesan and butter and taste for salt.

Seared Scallop
Made these for Valentine's Day. They're perfect on this risotto.
Pan Seared Scallops
3 - 6 Scallops per person
Salt and Pepper

Keep the scallops in between two sheets of paper towels before you cook them. This will help absorb any moisture from the scallops. Season the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat a stainless steel or well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium high heat and add a tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil.

When the pan is hot, add the scallops, giving them about 1 - 2 inches of room in between each other. Cook them undisturbed for 2 minutes then using a spatula, gently flip the scallops to the second side, cook for another 1 minute or until the second side is nicely browned also. Take off heat and serve with your favorite side.

Blackberry Vinaigrette

For the salad mix in our CSA box, I made a blackberry vinaigrette with the blackberries I painstakingly picked last summer. I still have about a gallon of frozen blackberries and I better hurry up and use them before they start tasting like freezer. Wouldn't that be a waste! I mean, my sweat and blood went into picking those blackberries! This is a great summery, fruity dressing that really relies on fresh berry flavor.

Blackberry Vinaigrette
3 Tbsp fresh blackberry puree
fresh lemon juice (to taste)
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (to taste)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

If your blackberries are very ripe, sweet, and potent, you can get away using just two tablespoons of puree and add some lemon juice for tartness. My blackberries were not picked at their absolute ripest so they were still on the slightly tart side and I didn't need to add any lemon juice at all. Don't add any acid in the the beginning and just taste as you go.

Whisk the blackberry puree and Dijon together to mix, slowly whisk in some extra virgin olive oil until you get the consistency you like. Add lemon juice for additional tartness. Season with some salt and pepper.

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