Lemon, Saffron and Mascarpone Risotto with Seared Scallops and Brown Butter

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The beauty of risotto is it’s simplicity, and it’s versatility.

When I first started cooking, the idea of making a risotto seemed very daunting. There’s the constant stirring required, making sure your stock is warm, moving quickly at the end when stirring in the parmesan and butter, and making sure you have it cooked perfectly so there’s still a little bite left to the rice. It seemed, dare I say it, a little fussy and I didn’t need fussy in my life thank you very much.

But then while watching Netflix’s popular cooking show – Chef’s Table – I became engrossed with an Italian Chef – Massimo Bottura. When two earthquakes hit his hometown of Modena, almost an entire production of parmesan cheese was affected, 400,000 wheels of parmesan were damaged. A catastrophe for the producers, who didn’t think they would recover from the loss. Have no fear – in enters Massimo Bottura who invented a recipe for risotto – Risotto Cacio e Pepe (risotto with cheese and pepper) and saved the parmesan production. Everyone was cooking the dish. (Read more about Massimo here!) So of course, I too, NEEDED to cook it. And cook it I did, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it actually was. Granted, it does take a lot of stirring but it’s nowhere near as fussy as I thought.

It wasn’t until the Middle Ages, when Italy was given the gift of rice by Arabs, that risotto was born. The Mediterranean climate was well suited to grow the short-grain variety of rice which is crucial for risotto. The shorter grain version has more starch which is rubbed off during all that stirring to dissolve and thicken the liquid (broth). Arborio or Carnaroli are the most popular and readily available varieties.

The version I made for this post is infused with saffron and lemon and has smooth mascarpone stirred in at the end to give it a delicious creamy texture. Scallops are the perfect accompaniment because their natural sweetness goes well the creaminess of the rice and the tanginess of the lemon .

But remember, there are endless possibilities when it comes to risotto, different stocks, different vegetables and different meats can be experimented with. Choose ingredients you love or try this version, whatever you decide, learn how to make this classic Italian dish. You’ll love it, I guarantee it!

Now without further ado, let’s get cooking!

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You’ll need some olive oil, finely chopped shallots, a couple cloves of garlic, a pinch of saffron, 2 lemons, some dry white wine, mascarpone and parmesan cheese and stock.

I used chicken stock for this recipe, but feel free to use vegetable or fish stock, any of which would work very well in this recipe.

Heat the stock over medium heat. Add the saffron and the peels of one lemon. Keep warm until needed.

Start off by heating a deep sided non-stick pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the shallots, cook until softened then add the garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes, but makes sure the onions don’t brown.

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Add the rice and cook for a couple of minutes until the grains are coated with the olive oil and become opaque.

At this point, pour yourself a glass of that white wine… you know, to make sure it’s good enough to cook with. Then add the some to the rice. Stir the mixture until the wine evaporates.

Once it evaporates add a couple of ladles of stock to the mixture. Cook again, stirring continuously until the stock evaporates.

Continue stirring and adding stock until the rice is al dente, about 20 minutes and is creamy in texture.

Lower the heat. Add the zest of the second lemon and the juice of half of it. Stir into the mixture then add your parmesan cheese, mascarpone and a nice knob of butter. Keep warm while preparing the rest of your meal. Adding a bit of stock to loosen if required.

And that’s it for risotto making – easy as pie! (I never understood that expression until my High School English teacher told us that the expression refers to the easiness of eating pie, not baking it — the things you know).

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Scallops are deliciously sweet and tender and take minutes to cook. The important part though is to make sure they are as fresh as possible and that you get them as dry as you can otherwise they’ll steam instead of sear. Pat them dry between paper towels, and let the air dry for 10 minutes or so.image8

Then it’s as easy as heating a pan over high heat and adding some rapeseed oil. Once the oil is very hot, season the scallops with salt and add those babies to the pan.

Sear for a 1-2 minutes per side.

Once browned, take those little beauties out of the pan and let them rest for a minute or two on paper towels to absorb some of the excess oil.

In the meantime add some butter to a small pan over high heat and cook until foaming and dark golden brown.

Add a tiny bit of stock to your risotto to loosen it if needed and you’re ready to plate up. Pile the scallops on the risotto and drizzle with a little of the browned butter. I served this with some garlicky tender stem broccoli, but asparagus would have worked well or even sauteed spinach.

Take a bite, and let the flavours overwhelm you. Definitely a dinner party worthy dish that I’m sure you’ll love.

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Saffron Risotto with Seared Scallops

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 45 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Risotto

  • 6 Cups Chicken Stock
  • Pinch of Saffron
  • 2 Lemons, 1 zested and juiced, 1 peeled
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1½ Cups Risotto Rice (I used Arborio)
  • ½ Cup Dry White Wine (good enough to drink)
  • 5 Tbsp Mascarpone
  • 1 Cup Parmesan, shredded
  • Knob of Butter

Heat the broth over medium heat and add the saffron, the peels of one lemon. Keep warm.

In a large deep sided skillet, heat the olive oil and add the shallots. Cook until translucent and softened. Add the garlic and cook for a further 30 seconds until the garlic is fragrant. Add the rice and stir, making sure each grain of rice gets coated with the oil and becomes opaque.

Add the wine and cook until evaporated. Then add a couple of ladles of stock and stir continuously until evaporated. Add another couple of ladles and continuing stirring. Do this until the rice is al dente and creamy, about 20 minutes. Add the lemon zest and the juice of half the lemon. Lower the heat and stir in the mascarpone, parmesan and a knob of butter. Keep warm while you prepare the scallops, adding a bit of extra stock to loosen if required.

Scallops

  • 4-5 Medium Scallops per person
  • 3 Tbsp of Rapeseed oil
  • salt

Pat dry your scallops between paper towels, then let air dry. Making sure they are as dry as possible.

Heat the oil in a skillet almost until smoking. Season the scallops with salt and add to the pan. Sear for 1-2 minutes on each side.

Remove from the skillet and let rest on a paper towel to absorb some excess oil.

In the meantime make some brown butter by heating a couple of tablespoons in a clean pot until foamy and golden brown.

Serve scallops a top of risotto, drizzle with the brown butter and serve with greens.

Enjoy!

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