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Simple Seaside Risotto with Scallops

The tongue of heat that laps at the Maremma’s hardened landscape takes away our breath. We’re only three hundred feet down the trail that leads to the sea and already gasping for water. Not only is the heat scalding our lungs, but the signs warning of malaria mosquito are freaking us out. A long-horned bull surveys us with doleful brown eyes. Sunscreen. Check. Bugspray. Check. I grab up the pack, look nervously at the tethered bull and hurry to catch up with my family.

We wanted wild. We just didn’t exactly figure on this kind of wild. Who would have thought that Southern Tuscany could be outright dangerous?

The Bullhogs seeking shelter in the only shade available

To be sure, our accommodations that week were idyllic: we were staying in the corner of an old monastery converted into apartments. Our view took in olive groves and vineyards. Nearby a forest of cork oaks glistened in the evening sun. The day we arrived, a glass of champagne set the tone for an amazing dinner; everything except the cheese was made right there on the premises. By the time old man Locatelli explained with a glint in his Italian eye that he’d even hunted the boar that graced the main dish, I figured I’d died and gone to heaven.

But as an inferno set in the next day and the hum of insects in the towering chestnut outside our door revved loud as a lawnmower, I was having second thoughts. Giant wasps with segments the size of wine corks plied the air, investigating leafy crevices and sometimes the eaves of our apartment. And while the penned tortoises and porcupine quills that golden-haired Locatelli the younger showed our kids intrigued them, at the same time they were sufficiently overwhelmed to sleep badly at night.

Meanwhile, out on the beach in the Parco Nazionale di Maremma, we dipped our toes in the Tyrrhenian Sea and raced back to the car park. Finally, out of the intense heat we turned the car’s air conditioner to high, skirted Grosseto along a ribbon of asphalt and headed toward civilization. At Castiglione della Pescaia, we perched at a table in the square as the sun dipped. And while the Salad Queen escaped to seek out the perfect bottle of limoncello, I fed the kids on gelato and sampled the local specialty: seafood risotto.

Oh, so civilized. Here’s my take on it.

Simple Seaside Risotto with Scallops


Makes 2 generous portions


6 ounces of yellow onion, chopped finely

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons of good olive oil

1 cup good quality Arborio rice, preferably carnaroli or vialone

3 or 4 ounce of dry white wine (optional)

3 cups of hot stock (fish, chicken or vegetable)

12 ounces of scallops, patted dry

Paprika, salt and pepper to taste

1 Tablespoon of butter

2 ounces freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano or Grana Padano to finish


A note on ingredients:  In such a simple dish, the quality of the ingredients is ultimately important. Buy some decent rice (I use carnaroli or vialone even though it’s expensive). Use good olive oil. Make your own stock if you can. Because my vegetarian wife was out of town when I made this recently, I added a full-flavored chicken stock I’d simmered for two days and it made a big difference.  As to the scallops, I’ve made this with both sea scallops and bay scallops, and both have their fine points; go with what you like.

To make the risotto:

  1. In a 3-quart stainless steel sauté pan or large frying pan, cook 6 ounce of chopped onions in olive oil over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes until they begin to turn translucent. Add the garlic and, stirring, cook for a minute longer. If the onions begin to brown at the edges, take the pan off the heat and let it cool for a minute before continuing.
  2. Meanwhile, get your stock hot in a saucepan on a nearby burner. For best results, the stock should be at a low simmer when added to prevent thermal shock to the rice. Have a 4 ounce ladel ready for making additions.
  3. With the sauté pan over medium heat, add 1 cup of Arborio rice to the onion mix and, stirring constantly, coat the rice with the onion and oil. Cook for 1 minute. Add a couple of ounces of  white wine at this point to flavor the rice, if desired.
  4. Set a timer for 17 minutes. (It is more important from this moment that the rice is perfectly cooked than that a fixed amount of liquid is incorporated. All rice is different, and so will absorb different amounts of liquid, but all good arborio rice will be cooked in 17 to 19 minutes).
  5. Now add ½ cup (4 ounces) of hot broth to the sauté pan. Using a spatula, flip the rice over and at the same time clean any bits that are sticking to the bottom of the pan. After about 2 minutes, add another ½ cups of broth. As the rice absorbs the broth, continue flipping it over every minute or two, stirring only a little as necessary to even the rice out in the pan. Add small quantities of broth, allowing the rice to absorb most of the broth each time. Never let the rice dry out all the way, but don’t let it get overly soupy either. As time runs out on the timer, add smaller amount of broth so that you can arrive at a risotto that is slightly creamy but cooked until soft on the outside with a bite on the inside – what Italians call ‘al dente’. After the 17 minutes, remove from heat and leave uncovered.

To cook the scallops:

  1. Set the scallops onto a bed of paper towels and pat the tops dry as well. For success with scallops this is very important. Season the dried scallops on both sides with paprika, salt and pepper.
  2. With five minute left on the timer for the risotto above, heat butter in a 10 inch frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the scallops and cook for 2 minutes on one side. If a lot of liquid is exuded by the scallops, remove them to a plate and clean the pan; otherwise, turn the scallops to cook for 2 minutes on the other side.
  3. Remove the scallops to a side plate and deglaze the pan with a Tablespoon or two of water.

To finish the plate: Add the parmesan cheese to the rice and mix well with a wooden spoon. Scoop half of the risotto onto each of two plates (or into bowls) and put half of the scallops over the rice. Pour the pan drippings over the scallops and rice and bring steaming to the table.

Now imagine the Mediterranean sparkling blue-green in the distance. Life is good here…. Enjoy!

Street scene in the square at Castiglione della Pescaia

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A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.