Whether you’re ready to hear it or not, I’m going to break it to you. The holidays are upon us. I’ve never really been prepared for this. I begin receiving adorable Christmas cards in the mail in early December from my clearly-more-put together-than-me cousins on the east coast. My even more organized sister sends me family portrait cards every year. And though for eight years these consisted of just she and her husband posing on the couch for a timer shot, they now involve my nephew’s smiling face sandwiched between the two of them. This image will remain on my refrigerator for the rest of the year. I stare at these envelopes with my name and address written in flawless hand-writing equally baffled by the fact that they a) know my address and b) have time to send me Christmas cards. And even though it makes me question my maturity and ponder when I’ll ever be “grown-up” enough to collect the addresses of my entire extended family and send them cards, I love it. In fact, I love everything about the holidays, especially the food. And since we are all about to embark on a few months of rich and creamy mashed potatoes, tender braised meats, hearty roasts, mashed and roasted root vegetables, festive cocktails, egg nog, and lots of pie, I thought we could start with something lighter. This scallop recipe (inspired by Food and Wine) which I served with carrot purée, has all of the comforting flavors of fall.
On a recent visit with my family in New England, I cooked dinner. (This is becoming the norm whether I like it or not.) It was after a long day of busy, loud and “animated” family togetherness which involved a hungover and action-packed car ride home from a wedding with a screaming two-year-old. I made these scallops for dinner. And when everyone sat down and began to chew, the table fell completely silent. For the first time that day, there was a calmness in the house. Someone once told me that when it comes to cooking the greatest compliment you can receive is silence. My sister begged me to move in and cook for her everyday. My dad kept announcing that it tasted like he was at fine-dining restaurant. And I thought to myself, who needs Christmas cards? At least I can cook.
Scallops with Cauliflower, Raisins, Marcona Almonds and Carrot Purée
For Scallops and Cauliflower:
- 1 head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 12 jumbo scallops
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup chopped marcona almonds
- 2 tablespoons drained small capers
- 2 tablespoons golden raisins
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
For Carrot Purée:
- 2 lbs carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2 inch coins
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Start by making the carrot purée. Steam the carrot coins for about 20 minutes, until tender. When carrots are almost done, heat a dutch oven over high heat. Add 1/3 cup olive oil followed by the diced onion. Cook, stirring often until translucent, about 4-6 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the carrots and cook for 7-9 minutes stirring and scraping the pan. The carrots should begin to look and caramelized. Transfer this mixture to a large food processor and process until smooth. With the motor running, gradually our in the remaining olive oil and process until the purée is very smooth and the oil is incorporated. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower and boil over high heat until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain, shaking off the excess water. In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Season the scallops with salt and pepper; add to the skillet in a single layer and cook over high heat until golden and crusty, about 2 minutes. Turn the scallops. Add the butter, cauliflower, almonds, capers and raisins and cook undisturbed until the scallops are white throughout and the cauliflower is lightly browned in spots, about 1 minute longer. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir gently to coat. Place a large dollop of carrot purée in the center of each plate. Place a few of the scallops in a straight line on top of the purée and press them down in to it. Spoon the cauliflower mixture generously over the scallops. Garnish with parsley and serve.