Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Scallops, Risotto, Roasted Vegetables with a side of Friends

Friends gathering for yet another of our get togethers. Too fun!

Our hosts Rick and Patty

After a glorious weekend with the family in Florida, I’m back at the Rhode Island office to teach a class. It was last week sometime that my colleague Rick emailed me and asked if I wanted to come over and cook. Our dinner party gatherings during my frequent trips to New England have become a ritual I just adore. What’s not to love? I’m cooking, I’m with great folks, I’m drinking wine and when I’m on my game, I get accolades! How cool is that?

This menu had a main course that was a first for me. I used a fellow blogger’s scallop recipe. Matt Wright is a brilliant foodie in my humble opinion. His blog is a joy to read and he’s quite an accomplished food photographer as well. He has offered to give me a few pointers but I fear my little Panasonic Lumix would need a serious upgrade. I like to call my photography candid and rustic as opposed to amateurish but hey, that’s just me. Matt’s American food perspective comes from the Pacific Northwest and is influenced by the fantastic array of regional ingredients at his disposal. Some of my favorite food blogs are written from here. I highly suggest checking out this British expat’s blog.

So last week, after Rick’s invitation, I began thinking of a Menu. I’m not sure if it’s a kin to a writer’s block but I couldn’t get my arms around anything to prepare. I hadn’t seen Food TV in 3 weeks and my typical “food surfing” web time had been interrupted by sightseeing in Scotland and England. The well was dry. Knowing I had a few days to figure it out and also knowing that I often plan a menu at the market the day of, I didn’t stress over this too much.

Then Friday morning, during my usual coffee and bleary eyed perusing of some of my favorite sites, I stumbled across something that piqued my interest. Matt Wright had a scallop dish that I was just drawn to. It wasn’t so much the scallops (they were beautifully but simply seared) but the red onion confit, toasted pine nuts and sage infused oil was simply brilliant to me. Well this is a must try. Sadly I tried a version of the onions over the weekend in Florida and I was unimpressed. It didn’t look like Matt’s nor do I imagine it tasted like his. They were too thick, too sticky and too sweet. I must have followed the recipe too loosely so after a bit of improvisation I was willing to give it another go in Rhode Island (but I was a bit nervous).

After paying a bit more attention to the original recipe, Matt's perfect Pan Seared Scallops with Red Onion Confit, Toasted Pine Nuts and Sage Oil was perfect.

The next item came to me from the season. Monday was the 1st day of fall. Now for me fall means gourds. Pumpkins and Squash are the way to go and in New England that is the pervasive theme. So I felt a Butternut Squash risotto with asparagus was in order. Most of the ingredients are in the title. It was pretty simple but like all risottos, a bit time consuming. Ah, I tried this over the weekend as well and again, I was not pleased. It was gummy and not creamy. I was going to have to rethink this one also but at least I felt the concept was sound. Rounding out the meal were some basic and fall themed roasted root vegetables.

So you can imagine that heading to make dinner for 8 with a couple of dishes that turned out less that perfect for me was a bit concerning. Even in the grocery store a couple of hours before dinner, I was rethinking my decision. But I gathered my ingredients with sagging confidence and headed to Rick’s.

As usual we set to the no fun chopping tasks but having Noel help moves things along. As other friends arrived, we all just hung out around the kitchen island and drank wine. This is really nice for the guy cooking because I get to visit as well. 90 minutes later, we had our meal.

All I can say is thank goodness I tried these at home 1st because with just a few very minor tweaks on my part, both Matt’s dish and the risotto were just exquisite. The onions and scallops were a perfect pairing to close a summer and welcome in the new fall. The risotto dish was perfectly creamy with the Autumnal squash and the crisp air outside complimented the roasted vegetables well. A huge success. After 3 weeks, it’s good to get back in the saddle.

The final menu:

Pan Seared Scallops with Red Onion Confit, Toasted Pine Nuts and Sage Oil (recipe here).

Only difference is that I used the same number of onions but doubled the amount of scallops to 2 lbs.

Butternut Squash and Asparagus Risotto

Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into very small (½”) cubes.
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (divided)
4 tbsp butter (divided)
1 cup Arborio rice
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth (give or take)
1 ½ cups chopped fresh asparagus (top half of stalk only)
1 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Add 2 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp butter to large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the squash and sauté. Season with salt and pepper. Stir every few minutes. What we are looking for here is caramelized edges with cooked through bits. This should take about 12-15 minutes. Remove the done squash from the pan and reserve to the side. Add the remaining oil and butter to the same pan as well as the rice. Again, salt and pepper. Lightly toast the rice a minute or so before adding liquid. Here comes the tricky part of risotto in general. You have to constantly babysit your dish from this point until cooked. Leaving the pan for more that a couple of minutes could leave you with a sticky or burned wad of inedible goo. Not inviting is it? So grab your wooden spoon and glass of wine and hang by the stove.
After toasting the rice for a minute begin adding the broth 2 ladle full’s at a time. Stir. As the liquid is absorbed into the rice and it is almost gone, add more broth. When you first pour in the broth, you have a moment of stirring reprieve but as it becomes absorbed, constant stirring is needed.
Tasting is the best gauge for doneness. Al dente isn’t close, soft but sticky is great for sushi but more liquid is needed for the final creamy goal. As a rule, when I think my Risotto is about done, I add 2 more ladles of liquid and stir a while longer.
Now add the squash and asparagus and stir in evenly and be prepared to even add a touch more liquid in the final moments. Remove from heat.
Move to serving dish, and sprinkle some cheese over top and reserve the rest for individual use.
IF I made this sound too complex, I’m really sorry. I just want your first attempt to be perfect but just remember 3 things stir constantly, slowly add liquid, when you think you’re done add a bit more liquid.
It should take about 20-25 minutes and serves 8-10.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Pick your favorites but here's what I did.

1 rutabaga, peeled and diced into 1”-1½” cubes
4-5 large carrots peeled and diced into 1”-1½” pieces
1-1½ cups beets peeled and diced into 1”-1½” cubes
2 large Spanish onions, coarsely chopped
1 large fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
1 whole head of garlic, top sliced off
4-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Combine all of the vegetables (except garlic) and toss with olive oil and generous amount of salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet or baking dish (in our case, 2 baking dishes). Drizzle a bit of the olive oil onto top of garlic head and place in dish with vegetables. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Remove and serve. Garlic can be served with bread, or just added to the vegetables once removed from the paper. It should pop out with a little squeeze but be careful, it’s hot.


Anonymous said...

And the accolades continue well past the main event for as long as the leftovers last, and beyond! Thanks again for a great evening of food, friends, and fun. You're right, those are some good pictures. And the roasted garlic was a nice afterthought- I can't remember who suggested it but it was the crowning touch. Until next time.... I'm thinking mid-October. RFS

matt wright said...

This looks like an awesome meal!! I am so glad you enjoyed the scallops. You have a great blog mate!

Louis said...

Thanks Matt. Rick, I'm soooo feeling a mid October dinner again.