What’s not to love about this one? Risotto is the middle ground between comfort and class. Essentially savory rice pudding, you eat it out of a bowl. This is comfort food at its best. But the white wine, the shallots, the method… all these things elevate risotto from just a bowl of rice to luxury. Throw some butternut squash that’s almost caramelized from a roast in the oven, some crispy sage leaves, and parm in there and now its a seasonal melt-in-your-mouth situation.
For a vegetarian recipe, you could easily skip the scallops and serve just the risotto with the toppings. But for some added protein and pizazz, I add scallops because I can’t think of anything I’d rather enjoy atop a fluffy pillow of risotto than a perfectly seared but tender and creamy scallop and neither can my husband. The acidity in the balsamic cuts the richness with a tangy sweet and the marriage of flavor is meant to be. I think you will find that even those that aren’t “crazy about seafood” like scallops in this dish because it is so well balanced in flavor. In my opinion, the scallops turn the risotto from a side dish into a main. Honestly, you do not need to serve anything else when you serve up this bowl of gorgeousness. (Except maybe a glass of wine, and seconds, if possible).
I make it around this time of year at least once, and have done so for quite a few years now. It has become a meal we look forward to and I’m sure you will to. It’s certainly fancy enough for entertaining, but not too nice for a little midweek date night. If you haven’t had one of those in a while, pick a night, light some candles or start a fire, and make it happen. With this recipe. It’ll be amazing.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
12 oz butternut squash, seeded & peeled in 1 inch cubes or smaller
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
12 oz arborio rice (about 1.5 cups)
1/2 cup white wine
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
3-4 shallots, or about 3/4 cup finely chopped
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan, divided
12 fresh sage leaves + 1 Tbs fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 pound jumbo sea scallops*
2 Tbs good quality balsamic vinegar
4 Tbs olive oil, divided
3 Tbs butter
Salt & Pepper to taste
1-2 Tbs Toasted pine nuts (optional)
*The number of scallops per pound can vary, but If you plan on serving four people with this recipe, you want to shoot for 12-16 scallops so everyone gets 3-4 each.
WHAT YOU’LL DO
Start by Preheating your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Toss the butternut squash with 1 Tbs of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Turn out onto a baking sheet and bake, until fork tender with charred edges, about 25-30 mins. Once cooled, mash by hand or puree in a food processor with a few pulses, you want it to be mostly pureed but with some small chunks remaining. (You won’t need your oven again after this).
In a small pot, heat your broth on low heat and keep on very low heat or cover so it keeps warm.
Also, you’ll want to prep your sage leaves before hand so all you have left when the risotto is nearing done is the scallops. Take the 3 Tbs of butter and melt it on medium heat. Throw in the 12 whole sage leaves and cook them, basting them with the butter with a spoon. They will bubble up when you first throw them in the butter, then start to darken and crisp up quickly, within a couple minutes, and the butter will start to brown. These are all good things. Also, it smells like heaven. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbs of olive oil and add the shallots and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes until translucent. Add in the chopped sage and cook for another minute or two. Add in the rice and stir until grains start to turn transparent, about 3 more minutes.
Add in the wine and stir until the wine has completely absorbed. Add 1/2 cup of warm stock to the rice, stirring until liquid is mostly absorbed before adding more. Continue to add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition. When the rice is almost done, when you are down to 1/2 cup of broth left, stir in the squash purée. Continue to cook until rice is creamy and al dente. Stir in 1/4 cup of the parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside and cover to keep warm. Work quickly now to get your scallops done.
(You can prep your scallops while your risotto is cooking between stirs). Rinse them and dry them thoroughly between paper towels. The enemy to a good sear is the scallops being too wet. Preheat a skillet on medium-high heat. Salt and Pepper your scallops liberally but JUST before you are ready to cook them— salt will draw out more moisture from them, so you don’t want it to sit on there long. Again, the drier they hit the pan the better the sear.
Add in your remaining 1 Tbs of olive oil to the hot pan and gently place the scallops in a single layer, making sure they aren't touching each other. Don't move them around with tongs after you place them in the pan. After about 90 seconds, no more than 2 minutes, flip them using a thin spatula or tongs. They should have a nice golden crust. Once you flip the scallops over and they have cooked for 60 seconds, pour in the balsamic vinegar. It will bubble up and evaporate by half very quickly. Remove pan from heat immediately, and swirl to coat the seared scallops in the sauce in the pan. The scallops don’t need any more than 3 minutes total cook time.
Assemble bowls or one large serving dish with a heaping spoonful of the risotto, top with remaining 1/4 cup grated parmesan, sage leaves with a drizzle of the browned butter they are in, the seared scallops and those delicious balsamic drippings in the pan, and toasted pine nuts, if desired. Serve immediately.
Serves 4. The risotto can keep and be reheated if you have leftovers, but the scallops can not or they will be quite tough so looks like you have to eat them all in one sitting. Pity.
Inspired and loosely adapted from this recipe from Love & Olive Oil