Thursday, September 9, 2021

Rosie's Lunch. Seared Scallops, Risotto, And Green Bean Salad.


This is a lazy and rambling post.  It's lazy in that I'm not shooting step-by-steps of everything I'm cooking because if I did I'd never get to eat.  It's rambling because I'm trying to explain stuff that you might not know about and I'm making a bunch of stuff today to put this meal together.  I'm meandering about as I give you instructions on how I cooked this meal in the order that I prepared it.  I'm also assuming here that you have been in a kitchen before and have actually cooked a meal, because I didn't write down any amounts or exact measurements.   I'm giving you instructions to prepare several different items.  You can prepare them singly, or all together.  Your choice. 
So, let's talk about lunch.
What are the Hawthornes having?
Well, I'm glad you asked.
I’ve had a hankering for scallops lately, so this meal was built around that precious bivalve mollusk.  I’m going to sear the scallops in butter and oil and serve them with a tenderly cooked risotto with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and grated Parmigiano-Regianno added at the end, a plop of just-made pesto from my just-picked basil on top of the scallops,  Parmegiano crisps, and a side salad of perfectly cooked green beans with onion, sweet red pepper, feta, toasted almonds, hints of mint and basil, with a balsamic and citrus vinaigrette.  All in all, it was delightful.

First, I made the pesto.  Into my food processor went 3 cloves garlic and a big mess of basil leaves.  How much basil?  Gee…. I’d say a good two quarts worth, packed.  Add in a heaping cup of pecans (because I like pecans and don’t care much for pine nuts.) and about a cup of grated Parmigianno Reggiano.  Pulse it until it’s all mincey-like.  Then, with processor running, slowly pour in your olive oil.  I use a neutral-flavored oil (Bertolli Extra Light) so as not to interfere with all the other flavors kickin’ ass in here.  Maybe a cup of oil.  Just keep drizzling the oil with the motor running until you get the consistency you like.  Taste test.  Probably add in a pinch or so of kosher salt.
This made about a pint of pesto.  To store pesto, you can spoon into ice cube trays (Millennials:  What’s an ice cube tray??!!??), freeze it, then pop individual servings into freezer bags.  When storing in the fridge, I spoon the pesto into Tupperware containers,  pour a little oil in top, then cover with plastic touching the surface, then put the lid on.  That way, you don’t have oxidation and the pesto on top turning an ugly color.  

Like I said at the beginning, I didn’t measure anything.  I just eyeball it, throw it in, and taste it.  If you’re not comfortable with this, Google “pesto” and strictly adhere to whatever recipe of hundreds you will find.

As for the cheese, use Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Not just Parmesan.  What’s the difference?  Parmigiano-Reggiano is the real deal.  Parmesan is an imitation.  P-R is made in Italy from raw milk from happy cows who have been pampered and have grazed on fragrant and flavorful wild grasses, no silage allowed.  It is aged anywhere from a year to more than 2 years.  Parmigiano means “of or from Parma” and Reggiano means “of or from Reggio-Emilio,” Parma and Reggio-Emilio both being Italian provinces. 
Parmigiano-Reggiano is an Italian product from particular regions containing only certain approved ingredients, and is regulated by DOP laws, or Denominazione di Origine Protetta laws.  These laws or rules of the Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium exist to preserve traditional methods of production and ensure consistency from product to product.  For example, ingredients are restricted to partially skimmed raw cow's milk, salt, and calf rennet, which is an enzyme for curdling.  Each wheel of cheese is stamped on the rind with a label and a unique and sequential number so one can trace back its authenticity. 
 For more information on the specific guidelines for the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, here's an interesting article.
 Parmesan is an imitation, with no restrictions or regulations, and can be made anywhere.  Consider it the bastard American cousin, made with pasteurized milk and aged for ten months.  The term "parmesan" is used to market cheese that resembles Parmigiano-Reggiano, but no DOP rules apply.  It is an inferior product. 

That said, pay a little more and use Parmigiano-Reggiano.  And note, there's no going back now.

I used the Parmigiano-Reggiano in my pesto.  I used it in my risotto.  And I used it for my Parmigiano Crisps.
While we're still on the Parm, let's make the crisps.
For the Parm Crisps:
Grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano inside a round mold (I use an 8-oz. pineapple tin [like a cat food tin] with lids cut out.) onto parchment paper about 1/4 inch thick.  Bake in a 400° oven for about 7-8 minutes, or until golden.

 Now that you have the cheese facts down, let's start on the meal.

First the green bean salad. 

I love a good green bean salad.  And you can put pretty much anything in there.  I go for flavors, textures, and colors.  I generally go with red onions and multi-colored sweet bell peppers (multi-colored for the pretty), some kind of toasted nut, a cheese, some fresh herbs, and a vinaigrette.

First, let’s cook the green beans.  You know, it was years before I liked green beans.  Because I’d only had them prepared one way when I was growing up and that was cooking the life and all hope out of them.  Yes.  I grew up in one of those southern households where green beans were cooked for hours with a chunk of fatback in the pot until they bore no resemblance to that lovely little bright, grassy green bean that went “snap!” They were limp, mushy, sad, olive-drab, soulless, cooked to the death, pitiful creations that had no more backbone than spaghetti and cried on my plate.  I refused to eat Mama Hawthorne's green beans.

Fast forward to today.  I love green beans.  I know how to cook them.  I blanch them in boiling, salted water, drain them, then immediately plunge them into iced water to stop the cooking and set the bright green color.  Now, when I say salted water, I mean highly salted.  I read about this in a Cook’s Illustrated article which was attributed to Harold McGee’s “On Food And Cooking.”  According to McGee, the key to cooking vegetables is to cook them in highly salted water, i.e. water with the same salinity as seawater, approximately 3%.  This turns out to be about 2 TB salt per quart of water.  I know it sounds like a lot, but it works.  The heavily salted water speeds the cooking of the beans and helps them retain their vibrant color.  Technically, the salt softens the pectin in the beans’ skins, allowing them to become tender without losing that bright green color.  It also seasons the beans inside and out. 
For more information about McGee's beans, click here.

What’s so magical about supersalty water? According to McGee, when vegetables are cooked in salted water, sodium ions displace some of the calcium ions in their cell walls. Calcium ions strengthen pectin—the glue that holds plant cell walls together—by allowing it to form cross-links, and the ions’ displacement prevents that cross-linking and causes the vegetable to soften. (It is for precisely the same reason that we like to brine dried beans in salt water: The displacement of the calcium ions in their skins softens them and prevents them from bursting during cooking.)

Bring your salted water to a rolling boil, drop in the beans, and cook for 4-5 minutes.  Always taste-test.  Drain the beans and immediately submerge in ice water.  The beans are not overly salty, but they’re seasoned.  Tender, but meaty.  And they have an intense green bean flavor.

Now that you’ve cooked the beans properly (I had 3-4 cups of beans which I had snapped into 1/2s or 1/3s.) let’s go with a Mediterranean composition.  I’ll give you the ingredients and let you figure out the amounts you want.  
Green beans, prepared as directed
Red onion, chopped
Multi-colored sweet bell peppers, chopped
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Feta cheese
Toasted almonds
Basil, chopped
Mint, chopped
Mix all ingredients and toss with a vinaigrette.
Here's a Rosie Tip for you: Sometimes I like to use similar tastes, but different textures of the same basic food.  For example, instead of just using little cherry tomatoes in this salad, add some chopped dried tomatoes.  I rehydrate my dried tomatoes by pouring boiling water over, then covering with a lid, and letting them soak for 30 minutes.  Drain then chop into small pieces.  And when I say small pieces, I do mean small, since the flavor of the tomato is concentrated.  A little goes a long way.
In addition to fresh bell peppers, you could also use charred peppers.  Different texture and a smoky pepper flavor.  You can char them yourself or use jarred roasted red peppers. 
 And here's another tip for you:  When making pimiento cheese, don't get the tiny, expensive jars of pimientos.  Use the less expensive, larger jar of roasted red peppers.  Same thing for a fraction of the price.

A vinaigrette is simply a dressing with two main ingredients - oil and something acidic, be it lemon juice or vinegar.  It is enhanced by adding other ingredients, such as herbs, salt and pepper, garlic, and/or Dijon mustard.  The general ratio is 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil.  The rest of the ingredients you can add as you like.  As always, taste-test.

Rosie's Vinaigrette
2 TB balsamic vinegar
1 TB lemon juice 
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp coarse grained mustard
1/3 - 1/2 cup olive oil (I used Bertolli extra light.)
pinch kosher salt
Sometimes, I might add in a teaspoon or so of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce.

Combine the vinegar, juice, garlic, mustard, and optional L&P.  Slowly whisk in the oil to form an emulsion.

Now I have another most excellent addition to this bean salad, which came as an afterthought.
My neighbor stopped by the other morning while I was working in the yard and handed me a sleeve of bacon from Dunkin' Donuts.  "Try 'em," he said.  I did.  Sweet and slightly hot.  And really, really good.  So I had to up my bacon game the next morning for breakfast.  And I saved some of the bacon to go in the bean salad.  It was inspired.

Here's how I made the bacon:  
I laid out 8 pieces of bacon in a baking pan and put it in my cold toaster oven.  Turned the heat to 350°.  About 20-25 minutes into cooking (Your oven temps and times may vary, so watch it.), I rotated the bacon and sprinkled about 2 tablespoons brown sugar, drizzled about 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, and dusted about a teaspoon of chile pepper flakes over the bacon.  Continue cooking maybe 4-5 minutes until bacon is done.  Warning:  This stuff is addictive.

With the pesto and the bean salad done, let's work on the risotto.  What is risotto, you ask.  Well, it's not rice, per se, but it's a technique, uniquely Italian, for cooking rice.  The rice used is a high-starch, short-grained rice, such as Arborio, which can absorb a lot of liquid without becoming mushy.  The objective, in making risotto, is to cause the rice to absorb a broth, a little bit at a time, until it swells and forms a creamy, aromatic, flavorful union of tender, but firm grains.

Risotto cannot be rushed.  Take your time.  For upwards of about 40 minutes, you have one job - add warmed stock, a ladleful at a time, to the rice and cook slowly, stirring often, so that the stock is absorbed.  It's all in the method.  The rice's starches are released, producing a creamy, velvety, luscious dish.

For my risotto, I heated a tablespoon each of butter and oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet.  I added some chopped onion and cooked about 2 minutes, or until the onion was translucent.  I then added in a cup or so of arborio rice and sautéed for another minute until I got a nice nutty aroma.  Do not brown the rice.  Lower the heat.

I had a quart of vegetable stock in another pan, which I heated up.  The quantity of liquid used is an approximate amount.  As Mama Hawthorne would say, "until it looks right."  Ladle in the hot stock (You could use chicken stock instead of vegetable.), maybe 1/4 cup at a time, to the rice, stirring, until the liquid is fully absorbed.  Add in another ladle of stock and repeat the process.  Keep ladling and stirring, letting the rice absorb the stock, for 30 - 40 minutes.  The rice, when cooked, should be neither dry nor runny, but creamily bound together. Then I added in a handful of stemmed and chopped spinach, a bit of chopped sun-dried tomatoes, a chunk of butter, and maybe a cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Turn off heat, cover, and let the butter and cheese melt and the spinach wilt.  And it's ready to serve.

Note about the sun-dried tomatoes:  Before I started on the risotto, I placed about 6 sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl, poured boiling water over them, then covered them while I worked on the rice.  Drain, then chop up before adding to the risotto.
As far as risotto goes, the additions and flavor combinations are up to you.  You can always add different vegetables and herbs - parsley and basil, garlic, mushrooms, and thyme, lemony asparagus, peas, and mint.  Use your imagination.

Lastly, let's prepare the scallops.
I use only large ocean scallops, not the small bay scallops.  And be sure you use "dry" scallops as opposed to "wet" scallops.
First, I must go into the dry vs wet scallop issue.  It bears repeating. 

For proper sauteing, your scallops must be dry. And by dry, I mean dry both literally and figuratively. Literally, I patted the rinsed scallops until they were dry. Figuratively, the scallops are what we call "dry" scallops, as opposed to "wet" scallops. Wet scallops have been injected with a solution of sodium tripolyphosphate (STP) which helps the scallops maintain their moisture, plumps them up, and gives them a longer shelf life. It adds extra weight to the scallops for which you will be paying. The worst part is the chemical gives the scallops a milky appearance and no matter how hot your pan and oil, you will never be able to brown or sear these scallops because of all the excess moisture. The STP also changes the texture of the scallops (Rubber comes to mind.) and masks the sweetness and delicacy of their flavor.

First, rinse off the scallops and remove that tough, rubbery muscle on the side.  It's called the abductor muscle.   You can use a knife or just pull it off with your fingers.  It tears off very easily. Feed it to your cat.  Pat scallops dry with paper towels.



Now, to sear the scallops:
Once those side muscles are removed and the scallops are patted dry, season them lightly with your seasoning of choice.  I used freshly cracked black pepper.  Pour a film of oil into a non-stick skillet or cast-iron skillet and heat over medium-high until hot and shimmering.  Add a plop of butter and let it melt.  Using tongs, gently place your scallops in the pan, one by one, and do NOT touch them.  Resist the urge to move them around. Let them cook until golden brown on the bottom - about 90 seconds.  As I said, resist the temptation to push them around in the pan.  They'll tear.  Just wait and they will naturally release themselves.  Turn over and sear the other side.  Turn scallops over, add a few pieces of butter, along with whatever aromatics you might want - say dried chili pepper, a sprig of fresh herbs, citrus zest - whatever ingredients you think will complement your dish.  Scoop up some of the melted butter and spoon over the scallops.  Cook another minute and remove from skillet.  Do NOT overcook your scallops.
If you'd like to make a pan sauce, now is the time to do so. With scallops removed from pan and still over medium heat, add in a splash of liquid to the pan - lemon juice, vegetable or chicken stock, orange juice - it depends on your flavor profile. Scrape up the goody bits from the bottom of the pan to incorporate into the sauce.  That's where the flavor is. I like to add in white wine or sherry, but I do so OFF heat and AWAY from the flame.  Then I return the pan to the heat, give it a swirl, dipping the side towards the flame, and let the flambé begin.  Add in a pat or two or three of cold butter for enrichment and to finish off the sauce and some fresh herbs, if desired - mint, parsley, and/or basil come to mind.  Pour the sauce onto your serving dish.  Plate the scallops.  And there ya go!

After pouring the alcohol in
(AWAY from flame),
return pan to burner and
 tilt to ignite.

Let flames burn off.
Scrape up the goodie bits
and stir in pats of butter for enrichment.


 And there you have it!
A bed of creamy risotto. 
 Seared scallops. 
 Fresh basil pesto on top. 
 And a side wedge of Parmesan crisp.



Debe said...

Wonderful �� thank You for the story of green beans lol! I have a family member that does the exact same thing, overcook to death ☠️ with fatback!

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Thanks for reading, Debe.
And continue to keep those beans bright and fresh!