Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sea Scallops on a Pea-Mint Purée: simple genius!

Let me repeat myself: I am so damn lucky to have the friends I do. Especially because so many of them have genius cooking skills. I'm not talking molecular gastronomy/sous vide/foaming everything/mad kitchen scientist (aka Grant Achatz) sort of genius. I'm talking the genius of people who just appreciate good food, mostly prepared simply, and who also love sharing what they know. The following recipe is a perfect example of what I call simple genius.

The other night w and I had friends over, and since it was a Monday (when I'm off work), I was looking forward to a day of shopping, prepping, setting the table, all those things that build the anticipation for a great evening and I happen to LOVE doing. Even more so than usual this time because I was being joined by my author pal DOR, who just got back from the India/Nepal border region on a research trip for a new book, suggested we hang out cooking together in my kitchen. Nothing could have sounded better. The night's main course was going to be my, if I may shamelessly prop myself, stellar butternut squash risotto. After apps and cocktails, I wanted to start with a first course of scallops, and DOR mentioned he had a recipe for seared scallops on a pea-mint purée that he was feeling pretty smug about. He has fed me enough incredible food, so there's no need for debate. As you can see from the photo, his dish is beautiful to look at and even more delicious to eat (we decided together that a few fried pancetta bits could only help things). And it was so simple to prepare. The best part is it uses frozen peas, so you can get all food-porny year round. DOR thought it was an old Bittman recipe, but he couldn't remember for sure. Wherever it came from, it left everyone gasping for superlatives. Again, simple genius!

Wine choice: to me this cries out for a crisp, all stainless fermented sauvignon blanc. Maybe a fresh Sancerre from the Loire Valley, or if you can find it (I know where), what I consider the finest sauvignon blanc made in the U.S., the 2007 J. Christopher "Willamette Valley".
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Seared Scallops on a Pea-Mint Purée
Serves 8
3 tablespoons butter
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
16 sea scallops
2 small bags frozen peas
1 cup fresh mint leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved.
2 small shallots, sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces pancetta, finely diced (optional....but really good!)

1- In a large non-stick skillet on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons butter and one tablespoon olive oil. When butter has melted, add peas, garlic, and shallots. Sauté until peas have thawed and heated slightly. Remove from heat. While peas are heating, put diced pancetta in a small non-stick sauté pan and cook until crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
2- Place pea mixture in a food processor. Add half on mint leaves. Pulse until peas and mint form a coarse purée. Taste, and if minty enough, don't add any more, If not, have at it with more mint leaves. Drizzle in olive oil with motor running until mixture is slightly viscous (about the texture of pesto). Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
3- Rinse scallops, pat dry, and lightly salt both sides. In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, add one tablespoon butter and one tablespoon olive oil. When butter melts and foam subsides, add scallops and sear for about 2 minutes per side until a light brown crust forms (see picture). If pan is too crowded, do in batches, and keep finished scallops warm in a 170* oven (they won't be in long enough to cook more).

4- On small plates (if you have white plates, use them because the color just jumps off of them) add a dollop of pea-mint purée, spread slightly, top with two scallops, and sprinkle with pancetta bits. Serve immediately. Feel the love!
Cooks note: DOR also says he uses this as an edibly attractive base for halibut, salmon, and other fish.

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