Romance is in the air, isn't it? Everything is heart-shaped and pink and flowers and chocolate. It's definitely here. Valentine's Day.
Is Valentine's Day just another Thursday to you? Or do you go all-out with gifts and chocolate and champagne? Do you do the anti-Valentine's thing? Or do you love all the love?
I fall somewhere in the middle. I celebrate in that I think time spent with a loved one, a friend, or just treating yourself to a nice book and a hot cup of coffee is more important, and romantic, than shiny gifts. A nice meal at home beats a reservation and an overpriced prix fix meal. A bottle of my favorite red beats champagne any day, but especially on Valentine's. The last one is less about Valentine's Day and more about the fact that champagne is a sure-fire ice pick to the head.
Whatever you do, though, you should enjoy yourself. For me that includes a nice dinner at home, in which I treat myself to ingredients I don't usually buy. If you're like me, I have an idea. It's fancy, special, and is best done with two people. Perfect for a Valentine's Day in.
Seafood risotto is a knock-out, but add some beautiful, sweet seared scallops and you've got yourself a feast.
Risotto starts with onions and butter in the bottom of a heavy pot. Let those cook for about 5 minutes, until nice and soft, then season with salt and pepper. Add rice and stir to toast, about 1 minute, then add some white wine.
Stir until the wine is absorbed, then add warmed stock, 1/2 a cup at a time. This is a mixture of chicken stock and clam juice, as I couldn't find seafood stock at my grocery store. Don't let clam juice freak you out--it just adds some briny goodness so that your seafood risotto doesn't taste like chicken risotto.
Keep adding stock to the rice until the rice is tender and creamy. You might not use all of the stock, and that's ok.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, add a tablespoon of olive oil and about a pound of large shrimp that have been cleaned and have had their shells removed. Season with salt and pepper and cook until just pink, then remove to a bowl or plate.
When the risotto is finished, add the shrimp and any juices to the rice and stir to combine.
Check for seasonings and adjust if necessary. Not pictured: some chopped fresh thyme and a squeeze of lemon for freshness.
But back to the shrimp: when the shrimp is finished, add another tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet along with a tablespoon of butter. Let that get good and hot--like shimmering hot. Season the scallops with salt and pepper, then place them in the skillet, making sure that they have ample room. If you crowd them in too tight, they'll steam and won't get a good sear, so depending on the size of your skillet and how many people you are cooking for, you might need to work in batches.
Let them cook for 2-3 minutes without touching them. This will ensure a nice crust on your scallop, which is where all the goodness is. Turn your scallops, letting them sear on the other side for about 1-2 minutes more.
You can see why two people are helpful in this dish--one stirs, making sure the risotto is nice and creamy, while the other cooks the seafood. Both people are busy, conversation is flowing, and everything is done at once.
When you're ready, assemble your plates. This actually served as a dinner for a different special night, my birthday, but we were feasting nonetheless. I made steakhouse-style seared steaks and roasted parmesan green beans along with the risotto.
When it all came together, it looked a little something like this.
The steaks were flavorful and juicy; the beans were sweet and salty and a little crunchy, but the risotto. The risotto was out of this world.
It was creamy and flavorful without being too heavy. The shrimp added nice texture and flavor but my favorite were the scallops. Perfectly seared and sweet, they were like the super indulgent icing on the already incredible cake.
Admittedly, scallops aren't something I buy every day. In fact, even on a special day I could only swing 4 of them--they're not cheap. However this risotto, without the steak and the sides, would cost you over $20 in a restaurant on a regular night. If you're looking to have an affordable, stress-free, special, and, sure, a little indulgent Valentine's Day, why not splurge on a comfortable night at home?
That's what we'll be doing, anyway. A nice, quiet meal in, that pulls out all the stops. That's my idea of celebrating. Happy Valentine's Day, friends! Do what you love, why don't you?
Here's the recipe:
Seafood Risotto with Seared Scallops (serves 2, with lots of leftover risotto!)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 cups seafood stock, or 2 cups chicken stock with 1 cup clam juice
- 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 large diver scallops, with the little side mussel removed (they probably will do this for you already, but you should check just in case. If it's not, just gently pull and discard.)
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- plenty of salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- The juice of 1/2 a lemon
- In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add shrimp and cook until just pink, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Heat stock in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, until simmering.
- Meanwhile, in a large, heavy bottomed pot add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add onion and let cook for 5 minutes, until very soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add rice and stir until just translucent, about 1 minute. Add white wine and stir constantly until rice has absorbed all of the liquid. Add stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stir as rice absorbs the liquid. Keep doing this until the rice is creamy and tender, which should take about 30-35 minutes. You may not use all of the stock, and that's ok. You also might need to have some extra handy, just in case you need more. When the risotto is finished, remove from the heat and add cheese. Stir to combine, then add shrimp. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
- While the risotto is just about finished cooking, season the scallops with salt and pepper. Heat the remainder of the olive oil, along with the butter in the same skillet as the shrimp, over medium high heat. Let the pan get super hot--the oil should be simmering. Add the scallops and cook, undisturbed, for about 3 minutes. Flip the scallops and let cook 1-2 minutes more, until each side is nice and golden brown. Set aside and cover with foil if the risotto isn't ready yet.
- Plate the risotto with the scallops on top. This would be plenty if you wanted to serve as a meal, or it could be used as a side dish.