Summer 2021 makes me want to switch up my entire life and be a little extra. After spending so much of the last year-plus indoors, socially distancing, I wanted to come back strong for my favorite season. With the first surge of heat in the air, I ditched my living room work desk for the greater outdoors (a.k.a. the dingy, questionably safe rooftop of my apartment building). I traded in my short, unpolished fingernails for long stiletto-shaped tips tinted highlighter yellow. And, most notably, I decided that my midweek dinners deserved a little more attention.
This is not the summer to live off of random fridge-foraging salads and avocado toast. Because by the end of the day-even on warm evenings-I find myself yearning for an actually-hot dinner that's bright and special. (But still simple enough to make on a weeknight.) The ideal option: summer risotto. Yes, risotto. Specifically, the basil-and-pineapple number I picked up from Kelly Senyei's The Secret Ingredient Cookbook.
In her Seared Scallops with Basil Risotto recipe, Senyei takes risotto out of its typical cozy, wintry realm and punches it up with sweet-tart pineapple juice and aromatic fresh herbs. "Basil and pineapple combine in some of my absolute favorite cocktails," Senyei tells me. "I thought, if it works in a cocktail, I know the components-the herbiness of the basil with the subtle sweetness of the pineapple-will work wonders in this dish."
The result is creamy, rich, and savory, thanks to a base of vegetable broth and a hint of salty Parmesan. But that richness is balanced with the pineapple juice's bright and tart punch. "When you break down the flavor profile of a pineapple, it's not just sweet-it has this tangy, acidic element," Senyei explains. "When you pair it with the intensity of fresh basil, everything meshes perfectly and brings these sweet-sour flavors to the risotto."
The freshness of these flavors take risotto from cheesy, heavy status to something that's vibrant and bright; something you want to eat even when it's warm out: "We often think of risotto being topped with a hearty Bolognese or braised meat-serving it with quick caramelized scallops makes it perfect for this time of year," Senyei says.
Though you don't have to open a bottle of wine to make it, this summer risotto feels like a fancy five-star restaurant entrée. But it's definitely easy enough to make at home on any night of the week. You'll start by heating some vegetable broth and fresh or canned pineapple juice in a saucepan, then ladling the hot mixture a spoonful at a time over a mixture of Arborio rice with browned minced onions and garlic. You'll need to stir it intermittently, until the rice becomes tender. The rice becomes tender and silky after about 30 minutes, and then you can add in some Parm, salt, pepper, and the freshly chopped basil.
Then it's time for the finishing touch. Cooking scallops is one of the easiest paths to an impressive meal. You just add the scallops (with a little oil) to a hot skillet and cook for two minutes, then flip and cook them for one minute on the other side while basting them with the oil. Don't walk away-they'll turn beautifully browned and caramelized before you know it.
Top each plate of risotto with the scallops, throw a little more fresh basil on top, and the dish is ready to serve. Turn on some music; light a candle. It's easy summer living, for sure-but borderline extra in exactly the way I want my summer to be.