Last Saturday I found some beautiful scallops at my local Asian market and made an impulse buy for Sunday dinner, without a firm meal plan to go with it. After ruling out pasta, polenta, and pilaf I remembered a risotto dish from an old Junior League cookbook that I made for Mothers’ Day. Risotto alla Milanese was a big hit for the moms and more forgiving than most risotto preparations. The flavor profile wasn’t quite right – Parmesan and scallops aren’t an ideal pairing – but there was potential.
The original recipe is an exercise in contradictions. The recipe’s preface takes care to note the recipe’s pedigree, contributed to the Junior League by a member of one of “Northern California’s oldest Italian families” with a “flair and elegance for entertaining.” In spite of the lofty introduction, the recipe that follows is unfussy and delightfully non-traditional. Risotto snobs will be immediately put off by this recipe’s use of long grain rice instead of Arborio, to which I can only shake my head. Aside from the non-traditional choice of rice, the Junior League recipe hews close to the classic. The instructions in the original are thorough and thoughtfully prepared and produce a rich and luxurious risotto, tradition be damned.
To pair with the scallops I ditched the Parmesan in favor of pistachios, which add their own salty richness but still pair well with the saffron. I also added garlic chives, both for color and for some aromatic character. In the U.S. your best source for garlic chives will be at Asian markets, sometimes sold as Chinese chives or with the Japanese name nira. They are more subtle than fresh garlic or scallions but more aggressive than your usual chives. You can substitute common chives or onion chives directly, or use 2 tbsp of green scallion tips instead.
And it worked out exactly as I had hoped. The pistachios lent some nuttiness and a little bit of texture and the garlic chives gave it some bite, all without stealing the show from the simple salt and pepper scallops. A side of broccolini, a garnish of wakame salad, and a squeeze of lemon and we’re off to the races. I can see this recipe cleaning up nicely for just about any seafood entrée – shrimp and salmon in particular. There’s enough rich and buttery goodness in the risotto to eliminate the need for a separate sauce, while still letting the seafood speak for itself. Enjoy!
- Melt 5 tbsp of butter in a large dutch oven over medium low heat. Add the onion and saute for 5-7 minutes until onion is soft and translucent but not browned.
- Add wine. Raise heat to medium and cook until wine has evaporated, stirring occasionally.
- Add rice, salt, and white pepper. Stir in the buttery onion goodness until every grain of rice is well-coated with butter.
- Add saffron and 2 cups of chicken broth and continue cooking until broth is almost entirely evaporated, stirring occasionally.
- Reduce heat back to medium low. Over the next 20-25 minutes add a couple of tablespoons of broth at a time and cook, uncovered, until broth is evaporated. During this time you need to be constantly stirring and scraping the rice down from the walls of the dutch oven. When the risotto starts to reach the consistency you want stop adding broth, reduce heat, and continue stirring.
- After about 20-25 minutes of cooking the risotto should be creamy and luxurious and the rice should be a little bit al dente. When you have the texture you want, remove the risotto from the heat. Stir in the remaining 3 tbsp of butter, along with the garlic chives and pistachios. Serve immediately.