Seared Scallops over Butternut Squash Risotto

Seared Scallops over Butternut Squash Risotto

Are you craving a 3-star Michelin  dining experience but your purse says forget it? Making this dish in your own kitchen will transport you to culinary heaven, and it will be a lot kinder to your wallet if you make it from scratch.  I confess there is technique involved. I am confident, however, you can master two simple processes without issue: The sear of the scallop and the simmer and stir of the risotto.

First, the sear: Heat your heaviest sauté pan over medium-high to high heat for a minute before adding a thin layer of grape seed or canola oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add your scallops to the pan.

Don’t touch the scallops for a full minute so they have time to develop a golden brown crust. If you think you are burning them, remove from the heat a few seconds, adjust the heat, but don’t fiddle with the scallops. After they have developed a crust, reduce the heat to medium and cook an additional minute. Then raise the heat, turn them over with tongs and repeat the process. The scallops should be cooked through, and slightly translucent in the center.

Second the risotto: There is some mystique around risotto but it’s simple to master. I’m on the “learn while you burn” plan and have suffered through eating burnt risotto from using flimsy-bottomed pots. Therefore, I would advise using a heavy-bottomed pot, borrowing one from a friend if necessary. Also, avoid multi-tasking when cooking the risotto. It needs liquid and a stir every 1-2 minutes.

You will want to taste the risotto toward the end of the cooking time. Don’t necessarily trust the package recommended cooking time as it varies according to the age of the rice. In Italy, I’ve eaten risotto that was creamy but almost crunchy. The American palate, I’ve found, prefers risotto with less crunch, yet toothsome, and creamy. Tasting the risotto will ensure you have the texture that you prefer.

Whenever “dry-packed” scallops are on sale I buy them. I freeze them. I dream about them until they are all devoured. “Wet-packed” scallops are less expensive but contain STP (sodium tripolyphospate) to increase weight and “shelf” life. My friend, Mike, owns the best seafood business in town. He tells me “The scallop business is full of impostors. Even ‘natural’ scallops can be ‘wet-packed’. You can’t caramelize ‘wet-packed’ scallops because the natural sugar has been diminished. ‘Wet-packed’ scallops also lose their size, tighten up and toughen when cooked.”

Transcendental is how I could describe this eating experience. If you’ve the available risotto ingredients, make extra for leftovers. Butternut Squash and Wild Mushroom Risotto Cakes is tomorrow night’s dinnerFeed!

Recipe: Butternut Squash Risotto with Seared Scallops


  • 1 large (3 pound) butternut squash
  • 3 1/2-5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 medium leek, white and light green part only, sliced and washed well
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter or Earth Balance
  • 1 cup arborio (risotto) rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, optional*
  • 1 tablespoon snipped chives plus 8 extra chives stems for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons grape seed or canola oil
  • 12 dry-packed scallops


  1. Preheat oven to 400˚.
  2. Halve squash lengthwise and discard seeds. Peel one half and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Place remaining half, cut side down,on an oiled shallow baking pan. Surround with diced squash. Lightly season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
  3. Bake on middle rack of oven, turning diced squash once, until lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes. Remove diced squash and reserve. Continue baking squash half until it is easily pricked with a fork, an additional 15- 20 minutes. Scoop out flesh and coarsely chop.
  4. Bring broth to a simmer.
  5. In a heavy-bottomed stockpot, sauté leeks in butter until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in rice and sauté, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add wine. Simmer and stir until wine is absorbed.
  6. Continue simmering and stirring and adding broth, about 1/4 cup at a time, adding more as liquid is absorbed, until half the broth has been added. Stir in coarsely chopped squash (reserving diced squash for later use) and continue simmering and adding broth as described until rice is creamy yet slightly firm to the bite, or to your palate.
  7. Add reserved diced squash and stir briefly until just heated through. Stir in Parmesan, if desired, chopped chives and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover.
  8. As you are finishing your risotto, heat oil to medium high or high heat in large sauté pan. Gently pat scallops dry with paper towels and lightly season on one side with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. When oil is shimmering, sear the scallops until lightly browned on both sides and slightly translucent in the center.
  9. Divide risotto between 4 plates and top each plate with 3 scallops. Knot chives together (see photo) for garnishing and immediately serve.

*Some purists don’t add cheese to Italian grain and seafood dishes, though many people enjoy the flavor profile with the addition of cheese.

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 4

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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