Monday, October 29, 2007

Bark: I have sharp knives and I know how to use them

I haven't given you a recipe in a while, so in lieu of a proper blog post today, here's the scallop and asparagus risotto recipe I cooked on Friday night for one of my girlfriend's colleagues. I am informed (from sources other than myself) that it was good. But then again, these sources (my guests for the evening) have seen my collection of large cooking knives, so may have just been being polite... Do shout out if you enjoy any of the recipes I post - there are plenty more where this came from. If I ever find the time I do intend to compile them into a book at some point.

Scallop & Asparagus risotto: (serves 4)


300-400g Arborio risotto rice (depends how large you like your portions – oo-er, missus, etc!)
400g of King Scallops
1 red chilli (de-seeded)
2 cloves of garlic (finely sliced)
2 medium red onions
300g of button mushrooms (peeled, and sliced into quarters)
2 Ramiro sweet peppers
1 pointed spicy green pepper (I buy these from Sainsbury’s, though if you can’t find them, a normal green pepper will do)
1 large courgette
350g of asparagus spears
10g of fresh lemon thyme
10g of fresh rosemary
10g of fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 pint of vegetable stock
1 bottle of medium or dry white wine (nothing too fancy, a run of the mill Chardonnay with do)
Grated parmesan to serve (as much as you like!)
Extra virgin olive oil
Black Pepper

1 large, deep sided pan for the risotto
1 heavy based frying pan for the scallops
2 spatulas or cooking spoons


The trick with risottos is good timing – put in the ingredients in the right order, don’t overwhelm the pan with stock and keep stirring – and it’s really hard to go wrong.

First, prepare the vegetables. Don’t chop the vegetables too finely, keep things nice and rustic (to use an overly pretentious chefy term) because you want things to still have a bit of bite and texture to them after 20 minutes in the stock. If you slice things too thinly, they’ll just get obliterated and turn to mush as you stir the risotto, which isn’t too appetising, really. So prepare the onions, peppers, courgette by slicing them into chucks around 1cm thick. Similarly with the asparagus, you want to keep them fairly chunky, but not cut the pieces so large they won’t cook. Take off the bottom inch or so of the asparagus spears, because they tend to be a little woody and fibrous, chuck them on the compost (or in the bin) and then slice the remains into quarters (the sections should be about 3-4cm long). Finely chop the herbs and mix together, and then finely slice the garlic and the chilli. You can keep the seeds in if you like your food really hot, but the chilli is going to be used with scallops, so bear in mind if you keep the seeds in, the chilli will rather overwhelm the taste of the scallops…

Now for the cooking!

Fry off the onions over a high heat in some olive oil, adding the garlic when the onions start to colour. Do not let garlic brown, just give it about 30 seconds to flavour the oil and then add the mushrooms, seasoning with a little salt to draw out the moisture and plenty of black pepper. After another minute or so, add the courgette and stir-fry for another couple of minutes. Then add the asparagus, stir frying for another minute. At this point add the rice, stirring constantly (and get used to doing this, as you’re going to need to do it for the next 20 minutes!) and allow the rice to fry until the grains start to turn translucent. Start a stopwatch, or a kitchen timer, and you need to time twenty minutes. At this point you need to add your first bit of stock. Do NOT add all the stock at once. Ideally, you should have the stock in a pan, and you add a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly, adding more stock as it gets absorbed by the rice. But if you’re just lazy like I am, make the stock in a pint glass and just put in a quarter to begin with.

Stir like crazy so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan – because if it starts sticking to the bottom, it’ll burn very quickly, and that’s clearly not good! As the rice absorbs the stock that’s in the pan keep stirring (have you taken the hint yet??) and add about 150ml of white wine, alternating wine with stock as you need to add more liquid to the pan. Taste and season as you go (don’t be afraid of using plenty of black pepper – but don’t add too much salt, because there’s enough of that in the parmesan to give you a heart attack as it is!). When your timer says you’ve got about 10 minutes to go, add all the peppers and the herb mix. Keep adding stock and wine and don’t let the rice burn…

When you have about 6 minutes to go, put the scallops and chilli in a pan with olive oil, and fry over a high heat, turning the scallops every two minutes (Don’t forget to keep stirring the risotto! Sorry, I’m labelling the point somewhat, but it is important!)
Let the scallops brown slightly, but don’t let them overcook – because there’s nothing worse than an overcooked scallop (Rubber-tastic!). After you’ve turn the scallops twice, take the pan off the heat, and add some white wine to the pan, stirring gently to deglaze the pan – this will also help keep the scallops moist while you finish up with the risotto.

If you’ve got your timing right, the risotto should be done by now – the rice will be lovely and creamy, but still with a slight firmness at the centre. You should also have used all of the vegetable stock, and at least half of the bottle of wine – to give you an indication on how much liquid the rice should have soaked up.

Now all there is to do is plate up – the risotto should still be quite liquid (not runny, but like a thick cream) so it’s best to use plates with a bit of depth on them – or even use bowls if you want that whole comfort-eating experience. Serve the risotto first, then putting the scallops on top, and finally dusting the whole plate with grated (or shaved) parmesan, in case your arteries weren’t screaming enough in protest as it is…

Then get a fork and… oh, I guess you’ve got this part figured out already! ;-)
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