Best of Charleston 2007 » Eating

Best West Ashley and Italian Restaurant

Al Di La

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Al Di La

West Ashley. 25 Magnolia Road. 571-2321

Once again, the genius of chef/owner John Marshall's honest fare shines through, scoring yet another win for this perennial favorite West of the Ashley. Al Di La continues to outshine the competition, packed to the gills every night with hungry customers and wonderfully authentic grub at very reasonable prices. Even the deep pockets of newcomer Mercato couldn't knock it off its perch as the peoples' favorite place for la dolce vita. The unctuous risotto is so renowned, and the place so hard to get into without prior planning, that we asked John to provide the recipe so that our readers, on those nights when the reservation book overflows and the bar is bulging at the seams, can get a taste of simple perfection at home.

Risotto with Asparagus and Seared Sea Scallops

Serves 6 people

1 lb. fresh firm asparagus

salt and pepper

4 c. chicken broth diluted with 2 c. of water

4 Tbs. of unsalted sweet cream butter

1⁄2 oz extra virgin olive oil

2 c. of Arborio Rice

1/3 c. freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

18 sea scallops

Trim tough bottoms of asparagus spears about one inch from the end. Trim off tips and reserve for another use or cook in 2 oz. water and teaspoon of butter until tender and reserve for garnish. Cut remainder of asparagus into 1⁄4-inch pieces.

Bring diluted chicken stock to a slow simmer in a large pot. In another sturdy pot large enough to accommodate all of the liquid and rice, on medium heat, add 1⁄2 teaspoon of butter and the rice. Stir to coat then add 1/3 of the chicken stock. As the liquid starts to evaporate, slowly replenish it with the simmering broth 1⁄2 cup at a time. After the rice has been cooking for eight minutes, add the asparagus. Continue cooking and adding liquid. As the rice cooks, season the scallops with salt and pepper. Heat a nons ick sauté pan large enough to accommodate all of the scallops over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil and 1⁄2 tsp. of butter to coat the pan and add the seasoned scallops.

When the scallops turn a nutty brown on the bottom, remove the pan from the heat and turn the scallops over; the residual heat from the pan will finish the scallops. At about the 18-minute mark you will notice that the rice is beginning to get creamy and the white starch grain in the center of the rice is disappearing. Continue cooking and adding the broth in smaller increments until the rice is just barely firm to the bite, or longer if you prefer. Should you run out of stock just add a little water until you reach the desired consistency.

To finish the dish, pull the rice off the heat and stir in the remaining butter and the cheese. When the cheese and butter have been incorporated, salt and pepper to taste. Pour into serving bowls and top with the seared sea scallops.

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