Ingredients: arborio rice, onion, edamame, parsley, Grana Padano cheese, vegetable stock, beer, dry sherry, butter, olive oil, truffle oil, lemon, black pepper, salt.
Served with: scallops, chanterelle mushrooms, kale.
I don’t think there’s any way out of calling this a scallop dish. In truth, I only included those scallops because I had just purchased them (frozen) at an Asian market in Malmö, and wanted to see if they were any good. After all, who could forget the ousting of Spike from Top Chef Season 4 as a result of serving frozen scallops? For the record, I have never seen fresh scallops for sale here (nor should “fresh scallops” from a supermarket be trusted to have never been frozen). Also for the record, these big frosty suckers came out great. I thawed them gently in cold water, rested them on paper towels for 30 minutes to draw out as much moisture as possible, seasoned them with salt and pepper, then seared them on cast iron. The scallops didn’t split apart, nor did they have too much trouble forming a crust (which is a symptom of excessive water retention). They smelled fresh and had perfectly tender consistency. What a great day at the office! The large bag I bought wasn’t even that expensive.
The golden chanterelle mushrooms were marvelous, too. They appeared this week at the open-air produce stand in town, and I couldn’t wait to sautée them up. I really wasn’t too familiar with chanterelles, so I tried to keep things simple. This way I’d be able to commit the exact texture and flavor profile to memory. Basically I just tossed the chanterelles into the pan with the scallops, along with some leafy kale. I’d describe the mushrooms as mildly flowery in taste, buttery in texture. The Internet says chanterelle flavor is reminiscent of apricot; I would not have thought of that, but I won’t argue.
The real work for this dish was in the risotto. It’s like a rice stew, bursting with flavor, thick with a touch of Italian cheese. I could easily have served the risotto by itself, and in the future, I will. Truthfully I underestimated how much flavor it would have, which is a function of the stock (broth).
Great risotto, just like great jambalaya or paella, is all about the stock. If you use bouillon cubes, you end up with something that tastes like a microwave dinner. I don’t mind a little MSG here and there, but there’s always way too much of it in prepared soup mix. If you absolutely must buy your stock, at least look for a brand that eschews MSG. [Wow, I never thought I'd be giving stock tips!] To make my stock, I browned some vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, parsnip, leek, garlic, cabbage, mushrooms, bell pepper), added some spices (bay leaf, whole black peppercorns, parsley stems, thyme), and submerged it all under about 2 quarts of water. After an hour of simmering, the stock was ready to be strained and stored. I set aside half of it for the risotto, and froze the rest in ice cube trays (for easy portioning in the future).
To make the risotto, I started by chopping half an onion, parboiling and shelling some edamame (which I planned to use as a replacement for the green peas standard in risotto), and heating the vegetable stock from the day before. I sautéed the onion together with the uncooked rice until the grains became toasty and translucent. This helps the rice retain its shape and texture during the long cooking process. Next came the stirring. The idea is to add liquid very gradually while agitating the rice, so that the natural starch blends with the liquid and makes a creamy sauce (arborio rice works best for this, due to its starchy quality). I began with half a can of beer, then a splash of sherry, followed by the vegetable stock (in ladlefuls), each time waiting until the previous one had been absorbed. The final step was to stir in the edamame, a pat of butter, a drizzle of truffle oil, and heaping tablespoon of grated hard Italian cheese (I used Grana Padano). I served the plate garnished with fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon.