Spring Lunch in Maine

by Brenda Athanus
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scalloprisotto.jpgIt isn't hard to be inspired when your store's refrigerator is bursting with boxes of carefully bunched asparagus all lined up in neat rows. My first reaction is to pair the asparagus with the fresh diver's scallops that have arrived this morning, but I have my whole working day ahead to fine tune exactly what I am going to create for dinner with these two extraordinary ingredients. Something fairly quick and something that causes silence at the table. What is quicker than an risotto and what is faster that pan sear scallops? Ah, dinner in 40 minutes, now I am getting hungry!

I defrost a quart of chicken stock that seems to reproduce in my freezer and chop off the woody asparagus end and simmer the two together to give my risotto a more intense asparagus flavor so I can add the other end of the asparagus later on in the rice cooking process without running the risk of overcooking and losing that bright Spring green. In a two quart pot melt 2 tablespoons of butter and the same amount of olive oil, to this heated fat add 3/4 of a cup of finely chopped onions – I use yellow spanish onion but a red onion would really be beautiful in the finished risotto.

Saute, otherwise known as fry until the onions are fragrant and translucent which will take 4 to 6 minutes, don't brown the onions so make sure to watch and stir regularly. Measure out two cups of arborio rice, stir it into the onion mixture for 3 minutes until the scent of rice fills the air. Add a 1/2 cup of white wine to  the rice or in a pinch marsala works equally as well and stir the rice until most of the wine has evaporated. Now start adding the asparagus flavored stock, one cup at a time, stir, watch and then stir more stock in. When 3/4 of your stock has been absorbed by the rice add the sliced raw asparagus and fold  into the hot rice to gently cook.

Keep adding more stock and stirring....When the rice is the softness that you like and creamy take it off the heat. Add as much good Parmesan Reggianno as you want or in translation about a half cup of freshly grated Parmesan and 2 tablespoons of butter – now for the secret ingredient – 1/4 cup of creme fraiche, marscapone  or heavy cream. Beat the risotto with a wooden spoon quite briskly for half a minute and place a cover on the rice so it can relax and wait while you saute up the scallops. Over medium heat add 2 tablespoons of butter and glop of olive oil (2tbsp.) to a skillet, add scallops that have been carefully dried to the hot pan and sear-the first side a little longer than the second side.

The timing depends on the scallop's size and how much you like your scallops cooked. Cut one open to see if the doneness is what you like, if not keep cooking them. When they are as you like them remove the scallops from the pan and add all the collected scallop juice to the hot risotto and stir into the risotto. Pour the risotto into soup plates, garnish with the scallops across the top, grate a little more parmesan and a sprinkle of Spring chives. Just perfect!!

 

Brenda Athanus runs a small gourmet food shop in Belgrade Lakes, Maine with her sister Tanya called the Green Spot. 207.441.9327

 

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