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Chef's Corner: Risotto with Scallops, Lobster Mushrooms, Saffron & Pistachios

An extraordinary dish where the scallops turn a warm orange color from the exquisitely flavored spice, saffron. Surely a great choice for New Year's. Adapted from Biba's Italian Kitchen by Biba Caggiano.


Risotto with Scallops, Lobster Mushrooms, Saffron and Pistachios

(serves 2 hungry people as an entree, 4 as an appetizer)

For the Sauce

  • 1 oz dried lobster or porcini mushrooms

  • 2-3 TB olive oil

  • 1 lb fresh sea scallops (smaller is better)

  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • Salt

For the Risotto

  • 6 cups fish broth or chicken broth

  • 4 TB olive oil

  • 1/2 medium onion, minced

  • 2 cups "risotto" rice (Arborio or even better, Carnaroli)

  • 1 cup dry white wine

  • 1/4 tsp saffron

  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated

  • 2 TB fresh Italian parsley, chopped

  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped

Rinse the mushrooms then soak in 2 cups lukewarm water for at least 30 minutes. Place them in a strainer, reserving the soaking liqud. Rinse the mushrooms again, then coarsely chop and set aside. Strain the soaking liquid to remove sand and grit. You can use coffee filters or perhaps better yet, strain through a paper towel. We often peel apart a 2 ply paper towel (as shown, keeping one seam intact) and strain through it.

Place 1 cup of the strained liquid in a small pot and warm a bit. Add the saffron to allow it to steep while you continue the recipe. (Instead of using the stove, you might alternatively warm the liquid in the microwave then add the saffron to that.) Reserve the mixture.

Through the following step, take care not to overcook the scallops which will get cooked one more time later. Heat the sauce oil in a medium sized frying pan. When hot, add the scallops and cook until they are very lightly cooked, just a minute or two. Add the garlic and stir. Add the mushrooms and the mushroom liquid/saffron mixture (reheated if necessary). Season with salt and cook, stirring a bit, for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove the scallops and set aside. Continue to cook the mushroom mixture until the liquid is reduced by half.

TIP: Butter is a classic choice but some prefer olive oil, particularly for seafood dishes. HINT: You can do the above steps an hour or so ahead of time, placing the prepared food in the fridge as necessary.

Heat the broth in a pot and keep warm over low heat.

Heat the risotto oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onion. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion begins to take on a little color, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the rice and cook until it is well coated with the oil and onion, about a minute. Reduce heat to low-medium and add the wine. Stir until it is almost all reduced.

Add 1/2 cup of broth, just enough to cover the rice. Stir and cook over low-medium heat until the broth is almost completely absorbed. Repeat the 1/2 cup additions, stirring and cooking, until the broth is used up (about 15 minutes). At that point the rice should be tender, but still firm to the bite ("al dente"). NOTE: For the pictured preparation, we chose to use chicken broth to fine effect. Use fish or chicken broth depending on your tastes and availability. Reheat the mushroom/saffron mixture if necessary and add it, the scallops, cheese and parsley to the rice. Mix quickly for 1 to 2 minutes until the cheese is melted and the rice has a moist, creamy consistency. (You can always heat a little broth or water and add it, if needed.) Taste and add more salt if necessary. Divide into hot plates or bowls and sprinkle pistachios on top. Serve immediately. WINE SUGGESTION: A big, complex, buttery Chardonnay

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