Simple pleasures

Scallop risotto with seaweed stock and pickled fennel

It’s hard to go wrong with food if you add an indecent amount of cheese and butter to it. Even cheese and butter are improved by the addition of cheese and butter. Notable exceptions to this theory may be ice cream, breakfast cereal, avocados and possibly bananas.

And I don’t care if people say cheese and seafood are not acceptable plate-fellows. I can name fish pie, lobster thermidor, butter and cheese on bread with a whole crab stuck on top as a few examples. The last one may be made up.

This risotto is for summer, when the pangs for comfort food overpower the desire for light meals in the languorous warm evenings. Usually, rich and creamy dishes are reserved for the darkness of winter when all you want is to hole up with a book and candlelight. This version though, with it’s sharp fennel, refreshing cucumber and peppery pinches of radish is surprisingly light.

The seaweed in the stock and the scallops, caramelised and firm are more like a hot crab-shack summer lunch than a meal eaten wearing bearskins trousers and stoking the wood on the fire. The pickling isn’t really pickling as such, more a quick souse in vinegar and a dash of honey and herbs, but it gives this dish the sharpness and crunch it needs against the comforting softness of the rice.

I used vialone nano rice here, I prefer its bite, but feel free to use whatever risotto you have on hand. And if you don’t like scallops, well, you could use prawns too. Seaweed is easy to get hold of online and in health food shops these days and is well worth keeping in stock. I often use it when cooking fish to give sauces or poaching liquid a little more of the hint of the ocean. It may seem like there are a few bonkers ingredients here, and quite a lot of other ones, but if you get it all prepped, it’s a really easy dish that is pretty impressive and tastes delicious.

200g risotto rice such as vialone nano or carnaroli
1 onion, finely sliced
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
850ml water, brought to the boil
1tbsp dried seaweed flakes (optional)
1 piece dried kombu
2tbsp dried wakame
A good dash of olive oil
1tbsp yuzu dressing (or lemon juice)
5-6 scallops per person and butter to cook them in
A large pinch of Japanese pepper
Salt to season
A handful of chopped parsley
A bit more butter than you think is necessary
A handful of grated Parmesan
For the fennel salad topping
1 bulb of fennel, thinly sliced (keep the fronds for garnish)
A few radishes, finely sliced
A couple of baby cucumbers, thinly sliced
1/2 grapefruit, flesh only, cubed
Some more yuzu
A few sprigs of dill
4tbsp tarragon infused cider vinegar (you really should have some of this in your cupboard. It’s the only vinegar to use for vinaigrette)
A dash of olive oil
1tbsp honey
Salt and more Japanese pepper

Make the fennel salad first by combining the fennel, radish, cucumber and grapefruit in a large bowl and pour over the vinegar, honey, oil, yuzu, salt and pepper and mix well. Set aside.
Put the seaweed in a large jug and fill with the 800ml of boiling water. Leave to steep for ten minutes.
Season and sauté the onions in olive oil until translucent then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the rice and stir well until coated with oil and starting to ever so slightly toast.
Add a ladleful of your hot, homemade sea water and stir until absorbed. Keep doing this until all the stock has been absorbed and the rice is tender and creamy. Taste and season. Add the butter and cheese and stir in while vigorously shaking the pan. Throw in the parsley, pepper and yuzu, stir, add a little more stock to loosen if necessary (it should be fluid, not stiff and claggy). Put a lid on and set aside while you cook the scallops.
Heat some butter (yes, more) in a sauté pan and cook the scallops, seasoned with salt and pepper, on high heat on each side for about a minute.
Divide the risotto between four bowls, top with the scallops and some of the fennel salad and fronds, pour over some of the pickling dressing and serve immediately with the remaining salad on the side.


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