Last night was an evening I’d been looking forward to for quite some time. Way back when in late February, when I first received my culinary school syllabus and eagerly tore through it, I spotted a couple of lessons, way near the end of the program in module five, mysteriously dubbed “Market Basket Cooking.” I was intrigued.
The first thing that came to mind was the Food Network show, “Chopped.” Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the show. Something about the multiple rounds of elimination and the frenetic pace stressed me out as a viewer in ways that Iron Chef America or Top Chef never would. And months ago, as a culinary youngin’, imagining myself at the helm of that experience, peering unknowingly down into a jumbled basket of ingredients, I was detachedly anxious, hoping my future skills would be enough to carry me.
When we walked into our kitchen classroom last night and saw our secret ingredients written on the board, there was a unanimous sigh of relief. Scallops, grape tomatoes, spinach, and slab bacon were fairly compatible with a variety of flavor profiles, and we were working in teams of two to create two appetizers. Along with one of my frequent classroom partners, we put our heads together for a quick brainstorming session, sketching plates and jotting down prep lists, and I was once again reminded of the quick shots in Top Chef that cut between teams as they mind meld to plan their menus.
Arborio rice was stuck in my head, after briefly reading it on our stock list, and I couldn’t shake it, so I caved and decided risotto was in order. Leigh Ann recalled that the best thing she’d ever had with grape tomatoes was a roasted grape tomato concasse at DB Modern, so I opted to recreate it. After sifting through the rest of the ingredients, we decided to deviate from the overdone mushroom risotto and instead mix in leeks and lots of white wine and citrus to bring out the natural sweetness in the scallops. It’s a dish I would have ordered at any restaurant, and from this stemmed my confidence in betting it all on this fairly straightforward plate.
A few hours later, it seemed that I had emerged for the better in keeping it simple. Though my leek risotto could have done with a minute more’s cooking, it was rich, savory, and had a clean tang of citrus that cut the creaminess nicely. The scallops, which we couldn’t escape pan searing for both our appetizers, were crisp on the outside and perfectly tender in the center. And the roasted tomato concasse, which had been jazzed up with a bit of roasted garlic, olive oil and dehydrated lemon zest, provided a nice additional layer of slow-cooked flavor.
On the spectrum of what our class made last night, there are two takeaways as to where this dish fell out. In overall execution, Chef seemed to find it on the strong end. The scallop was well cooked and the risotto had good flavors – he kept going back for more bites, and the plate was quickly empty, always a good sign. On the other hand, some of my other classmates took greater risks in their cooking and stepped outside their comfort zone, something which I definitely did not do. I’ve both cooked risotto and roasted grape tomatoes many times, and acidic, fresh flavor profiles are absolutely my sweet spot.
On the bright side, that makes this dish a win, and a recipe I’ll gladly share here today. On the other hand, though, I’m curious how well I’ll fare without my safety net, and I’m hoping to push myself a bit more into the unknown tonight, with individual market basket entrees. In the meantime, please enjoy this wonderful leek risotto recipe, which is only made better with the accompaniment of a perfectly seared sea scallop and heap of roasted grape tomatoes. This warm, hearty dish is quintessential of autumn, and can come together in about 30 minutes. Enjoy!
Creamy Leek Risotto
Makes 4 appetizer portions
- 1 cup of arborio rice
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup minced shallots
- 1/4 cup leeks, quartered long ways and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 3/4 cup of dry white wine
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 3-4 cups of chicken stock
- 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
- 1/4 cup of heavy cream
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
- Salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
1. In a large saucepan or medium pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Once butter is melted, add shallots and leeks and cook, stirring often, until softened – about five minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more until fragrant.
2. Add the arborio rice to the pot and stir until rice is coated in butter and opaque, about 1 minute.
3. Add half a cup of the white wine and the lemon juice and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has been absorbed. Then, using a ladle, continue to add chicken stock about a quarter to half a cup at a time, and continue to stir constantly. As you continue to stir, the risotto will absorb the liquid, thicken, and cook. You can also add the remaining wine as one addition if you prefer a more tangy flavor.
4. Continue adding stock and cooking until the risotto is tender and creamy – about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, heavy cream, and about half the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of extra parsley as garnish. Can be served alone, or topped with a seared scallop and dollop of roasted grape tomatoes.