If you're looking to serve something special one night these pan seared scallops with a pesto cream risotto is the perfect dish. This risotto recipe produces a wonderful risotto and I promise you won't make it any other way after this. This is a pushy recipe Dear Reader!
I remember when risotto first became a huge thing here. It was in the 90s and everyone made a big deal out of the massive amount of stirring involved in making risotto. Then people started freaking out about the stirring and someone suggested a baked risotto (full disclosure, I made one, it was ok but this is SOO much better). But really you don't need to stir that much to make risotto. I stir it once after I add a ladle of stock and that's it. Trust me it still turns out wonderfully.
My friend Monica makes the best risotto. Her risotto has a silky, gleaming sauce and isn't a mountain of rice that sits up on a plate. In fact it is a pool of rice on a plate. It is so much more delicious like this and I will not eat risotto any other way. Monica actually comes from the region of Italy that is known for risotto. Her father is from Veneto which has a lot of flat land where a lot of rice is grown in rice fields. Isola della Scala in Veneto is known as the city of rice as there are so many.
Before Monica there was absolutely no way I could ever get Mr NQN to eat risotto. I don't even try because it's a battle of wills that gives me a glimpse into what life is like with a fussy toddler. It's a textural thing. He doesn't dislike rice but he loves congee but doesn't like fried rice because fried rice is too dry.
We were at Monica and Marco's house for dinner (pre COVID 2021) when Monica said, "I'm making risotto tonight". I didn't mention this to Mr NQN because I know his thoughts on risotto. But then she served this gleaming pool of squid ink risotto. It had the most glorious grey/black sheen to it and perfect tender squid on top. The rice grains weren't clumped together and served like a mountain - rather it was flat on the plate surrounded with a modest amount of glistening, creamy liquid. He gobbled up every grain of rice and then went for seconds.
I followed Monica around like an old skool reporter taking notes into my phone about her risotto as she prepared the next course. "You do not want dry, clumpy risotto. You want every bit of rice to be separate but held together by plenty of creamy, starchy cheese goodness." Then she added, "You want it to be liquid enough to make 'waves' when you shake it in the pan and never use garlic in risotto," shaking her head before adding, "Risotto should be wet, it shouldn't sit up on a plate". Most people know that you have to use the correct rice - she also uses Vialone Nano rice but you can also use Arborio or Carnaroli which all have high amounts of amylopectin which gives the starchiness required for a creamy risotto. Also don't wash the rice as you will wash the starch away which is what makes risotto creamy. Also you do need to serve risotto straight away as it dries and firms up when it cools.
Now pesto risotto is not something that you would ever see in Veneto as Italy is so regional and pesto comes from Genoa but I saw this on a menu and loved the sound of it and I had some pesto leftover from some recipe development and decided to try this with some Tasmanian scallops. I had her voice in my head as I made this risotto and Mr NQN gobbled up every grain of this risotto and this is how I got him to eat risotto again!
So tell me Dear Reader, do you make risotto often? Do you have a favourite type of risotto?
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? Share your creations by tagging @notquitenigella on Instagram with the hashtag #notquitenigella
Pesto Risotto With Seared Scallops
Rated 5.0 out of 5 by 2 readers
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Serves: 2 people
- 1/2 cup/125ml/4flozs. extra virgin olive oil for frying
- 1 large white or yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
- 4 cups/1 litre/2.1pints chicken stock
- 1/2 cup/110g/3.9ozs. Arborio, Vialone Nano or Carnaroli rice
- 1/2 cup/125ml/4flozs. cream (optional)
- 100g/3.5ozs. basil pesto
- Salt and pepper to season
- 250g/8.8ozs. scallops
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 1 cup/90g/3ozs. grated parmesan cheese
- 75g/2.6ozs browned butter or truffle butter
Step 1 - Heat the stock in a small saucepan and keep it warm on a low constant heat. Heat a large frying pan on medium heat and add oil and fry the onion until soft. You don't want the onion browned, just softened and translucent. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains in the oil. Then add a ladle of chicken stock. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock and stir - it doesn't have to be constant stirring I add the stock into the rice and then stir it once and leave it to absorb. Repeat until all of the stock is used and the rice is cooked (around 15-20 minutes).
Step 2 - While the rice is cooking I prepare the asparagus and scallops. Heat a cast iron pan on high heat and add a tablespoon of oil. Season scallops with salt and pepper and sear scallops on each side and set aside. Snap the woody ends of the asparagus off (they will naturally snap where they need to) and cut into three pieces. Fry the asparagus in the saucepan for a minute or two and then set aside.
Step 3 - Add the cream (if using) and basil pesto into the rice and stir to combine. Then add the cheese and truffle or browned butter reserving one pat of butter to serve on the risotto. The risotto needs to be served straight away because it will start to absorb the liquid so spoon it onto a serving plate and add scallops and asparagus tips and extra pat or spoonful of butter on top.