Risotto with Spring Asparagus and Scallops

Among the more challenging dishes for home cooks is the ever-popular risotto. It requires patiently standing at the stove, slowly stirring simmering stock into a saucepan of sautéed aborio rice and onions. As the stock is added, a little at a time, the grains start to expand and soon absorb the flavorful liquid. For a typical recipe, you can count on about 20 minutes for this process.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that having all the ingredients prepped ahead lessens my stress level when making this Italian favorite. I’ve also learned to serve risotto at casual dinners at the table in our kitchen. That way I’m not alone at the cooktop doing all that stirring!

In the following recipe, verdant bits of blanched asparagus and golden sautéed scallop slices are added to a saucepan of cooked risotto as finishing touches. Shaved Parmigiano  and snipped chives are the only garnishes.

Adhering to my “make-ahead” mantra, I would have the spears cooked and the scallops cut in half before starting. The stock (which includes chicken broth as well as some of the water used for blanching the asparagus) would be simmering, the rice measured, and the garnishes set out in bowls. Only then would I start to cook.

Follow these guidelines and you and those other lucky diners will be rewarded with a spring dish that is fresh, colorful, and absolutely delicious.  Look at it as a good investment of your time.

1 pound medium asparagus spears
2 to 3 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 cups arborio rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 to 1 pound sea scallops, side muscles removed, and scallops halved crosswise
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoons chopped chives or flat leaf parsley for garnish

1. Cut off and discard 2 inches or more of the tough bases from the asparagus spears.  Cut the spears on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces.  Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan set over medium high heat, add the asparagus, and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Remove and strain in a colander set over a large bowl. Reserve 3 cups of the water in which the asparagus were cooked.  Run the spears under cold water to cool and pat them dry.

2. Combine the reserved water and the chicken stock in the same saucepan used for the asparagus. Set it over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and keep mixture at a gentle simmer.

3. In another large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter until hot, add the onion, and sauté, stirring, until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat well for 1 minute. With a ladle add 1/2 cup of the simmering stock to the rice and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until all the liquid has been absorbed.  Continue adding stock in 1/2 cupfuls, cooking and stirring, until each addition has been absorbed before adding the next. When done, the rice should be creamy but not runny, tender but still somewhat firm. (You may have some stock left over.) This process should take about 20 minutes. Cover pan and set aside.

4. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet set over medium high heat. Pat the halved scallops dry, and when oil is hot add them to the pan. Cook, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides, 2 1/2 to 3 minutes total. Season them with salt and pepper.

5. Stir the asparagus into the cooked risotto. Salt generously to taste. Mound risotto in 4 shallow bowls. Top each serving with sautéed scallops, shaved Parmesan, and chopped chives or parsley.  Serves 4 as a main course (6 as a first course).

© Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2011

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