These are a few of my favorite things…

I learned to make this version of tomato risotto as a young aspiring cook in Boston. I’ve spoken about La Morra restaurant before, but I can never say enough how lucky I was to work for the incredibly talented Josh Ziskin. Every time I cook risotto I think back to the lessons learned in that tiny kitchen where we cooked with simple, straight-forward ingredients according to time-honored techniques. Without Josh, his original sous chef Alex “the Professor” Feldman, and a line up of extremely talented cooks I certainly wouldn’t be the chef (or should I just say blogger at this point?) I am today.

The wife and I were happy to be invited to a friend’s flat where I gladly took over their kitchen for a night. The request for the night, from the lovely Tamsyn Curtis, was for risotto and scallops, so I happily obliged and put together this little dish. I know many people who would balk at the suggestion of combining seafood with any type of cheese, but I promise you that this combination works splendidly. If you’ve got a problem with it, feel free to serve this delicious and summery risotto on its own.

There are four components to this dish: Tomato risotto, pan-seared scallops, crispy rendered pancetta and a lightly dressed peppery mix of field greens. I’ll go through each component individually, but if you have any questions on technique or ingredients feel free to ask me in the comments section. If you love risotto and want some other ideas check out Atlantic Cod with Spring Pea and Fava Risotto as well as Black Garlic and Porcini Risotto with Poached Quail Eggs.

Ingredients:

Tomato Risotto: Dehydrated tomatoes*, tomato paste (tomato puree- UK),  fresh cherry tomato mix- quartered (red, yellow, orange), fresh basil, fresh rosemary, butter, olive oil, white wine, Parmigiano Reggiano, Arborio Rice (about 1/2 cup dry per person), one yellow onion (diced), homemade vegetable or chicken stock**

*Halve one pint of cherry tomatoes and place on a baking sheet, cut-side up. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and place in a convection oven at around 250° F (125° C). Prop the door open with a wooden spoon to allow the moisture to evaporate and leave the oven. WARNING: Your kitchen will smell unbearably good for a few hours while they cook. Remove when the tomatoes are completely dry.

**Use homemade stock as store-bought is usually super salty and doesn’t reduce well. I had some veggie stock in my freezer. For a quick and easy solution simmer carrots, celery, onion and rosemary in a pot with black peppercorns, bay leaves and a small amount of salt. It only needs about twenty minutes on the stove before adding to the risotto. If you are using stock that’s been refrigerated, warm it up on the stove and add some rosemary for extra flavor before using.

Pan-Seared Scallops: Dry sea scallops 4-6 per person depending on size, vegetable oil, salt, pepper, fresh lemon (to be used for field greens as well)

Rendered Pancetta: About 1/4 cup diced, uncooked pancetta per person

Field Greens: This dish works best with some nice peppery greens; if you can’t find a good mix of wild greens, you can substitute arugula (rocket), watercress, purslane, mustard greens or a mix of vibrant greens.

Method:

As always, make sure to read through the instructions before starting and be sure to taste as you go along. Use your instinct and sense of taste to adjust the seasoning as you go. There’s no exact science to it, but you can’t learn unless you try.

Tomato Risotto: 

This risotto is excellent on it’s own as well, either as a starter or as a main course. It has a really bold tomato flavor thanks to the three types of tomatoes used (dehydrated, tomato paste and fresh cherry tomatoes) which are all wonderfully accentuated by the fresh basil, rosemary and Parmigiano.

1. Begin by heating butter and olive oil in a medium sized pot over low heat. Once hot, add the diced onion and sweat over low heat for about 8-10 minutes being careful not to allow the onions to brown. Get your wooden spoon ready, there’s a lot of stirring to come.

2. Add the Arborio rice to the pot stirring until the rice is coated. Turn the heat up to medium-low and add the chopped rosemary and dehydrated tomatoes to the rice and stir again, cooking for about 2-3 minutes until the rice is toasted. The kitchen’s going to start to smell really good now.

3. Stir in about two Tbsp tomato paste and add the white wine (about 1/4 cup per portion). Maintain heat on medium-low and cook until the alcohol is cooked out.

4. Add about half of the quartered cherry tomatoes and stir into the risotto. Proceed to step 5 immediately.

5. Add one or two ladles full of stock to the pot and stir to incorporate.

6. Allow the risotto to cook until most of the liquid is evaporated, then repeat steps 5 and 6 until the risotto is about 95% cooked to the firmness you want.*

*You can check the risotto’s doneness by either tasting or rubbing a single grain between your fingers and seeing how much of the grain remains uncooked. Read the quote below for a good description from one of my favorite cookbooks.

From The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper:

A good risotto is tender but still a little firm to the bite- never mushy. Some prefer risotto creamier than others, but it is never soupy or dry. Risotto has flow and movement, yet enough substance to be mounded on a soup spoon.

7. To finish the risotto, shut the heat when the risotto is still just a bit more al dente than you’d like and stir in the rest of the tomatoes, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1/4 cup per portion) as well as a couple handfuls of roughly chopped fresh basil and a spoonful of butter.

Crispy Pancetta:

1. This part’s a lot easier. Start after your first ladle or two of stock in your risotto.

2. Place the diced pancetta in a small pot and place on a low burner. Let it go.

3. The fat will render out of the pancetta and it will eventually turn crispy.

4.  Strain out the fat and allow the pancetta to dry on paper towels.

Pan-Seared Scallops:

1. Always look for firm, white, dry scallops that aren’t falling to pieces. Remove the “foot” from each scallop and pat dry on clean paper towels. Season well with salt and pepper and start to get a large pan hot while finishing the risotto.

2. Over high heat, add a significant amount of canola or vegetable oil (enough so that the scallops will be about 1/8 of an inch deep when cooking).

3. Make sure the pan is very hot and carefully place your scallops in the pan, making sure not to splash the oil, and spacing them out enough so they’re not crowded in the pan.

4. Get a nice sear on the first side before flipping (time will vary according to the size of the scallops/heat of the pan).

5. Once the scallops have a good sear on each side, they should be just about finished. Dump any excess oil and lower the heat. Add a little butter and squeeze fresh lemon juice onto the scallops before transferring to a plate or paper towel to rest.

Assembling the Plate

Season the field greens with salt and pepper and lightly toss with fresh squeezed lemon and extra-virgin olive oil. Plate the risotto in a warm bowl, top with a small handful of greens, placing the scallops on top. Drizzle the plate with a EV-olive oil and sprinkle the pancetta over the plate. Enjoy!