I have this trace memory that harks back to my days as a psychologist. I travelled around a fair bit in my job and often found myself spending the night in various hotels around the UK.
If I stayed more than a couple of nights I made it my mission to find at least one good place to eat and one good bar or cafe to hang out in the evening. I didn’t always succeed but I tried my hardest. One of the projects I worked on took me to Oxford, a city i’d visited several times for conferences and one that I love. This time I stayed in a hotel on the edge of the Jericho, one of the suburbs of the city. Once run down, it is now all arty and bohemian so looking for a place to eat was extremely easy.
As I was staying a few nights (and was earning a decent crust in those days) I had to give Raymond Blancs Brasserie Blanc (it was Petit Blanc back then) a try. It was good, as expected, but it was Branca, an Italian almost opposite that left me salivating and for ever trying to recreate the dish I ate three times in one week (it really was that good).
When i’m doing demo’s or teaching sesssions people often ask me what my favourite food is and are surprised that I have such simple tastes. Give me a perfect seafood risotto followed by proper panacotta any day and am happy. The risotto I had that day at Branca was the best I’d ever eaten. So simple, risotto with garlic and topped with scallops, yet so effective. The re-creation of which has eluded me for years. but I think I finally did it!
1 small onion finely chopped
2 small cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Approx 100g Arborio rice (generous)
splash of dry Vermouth
1 pint of fish stock
salt and pepper
4 nice fat scallops, corals removed
drizzle of olive oil
a good splash of marsala wine
Heat the oil and butter for the risotto in a shallow frying pan. Add the onion and soften until turning golden but not brown. Add the garlic and stir for a minute then add the risotto rice. Stir for a couple of minutes in the hot oil until it begins to turn transluscent (i.e. not chalky any more) then add a splash of Vermouth. Let the pan bubble until its evaporated then add enough stock to cover the rice. Try to avoid stirring, but give the pan a shake every now and again to prevent the rice sticking. As the stock is absorbed add a little more stock keeping the rice covered until you have used the full pint. You may need a little more but just check the consistency of the rice. Once it is al dente, or almost soft. Turn off the pan and allow the risotto to rest. It should absorb the last of the liquid.
While the risotto is resting heat a small heavy bottomed frying pan ( cast iron is best) add a little olive oil to coat the base and wait until it’s really hot (almost smoking). Add scallops to the pan, they shouldn’t stick if the pan is hot, just sizzle and start to shrink in the heat. Cook for a couple of minutes until nicely browned then turn over.
At the end of cooking add a good splash of marsala (stand back as the pan may spit) then add the remaining 25g butter. Serve the risotto and finish with the scallops, spoon over the buttery juices, squeeze some lemon juice and sprinkle with parsley.