Seared Scallops with Creamy Spinach and Leeks

As a ten year old girl, there is no way I ever imagined myself blogging about scallops and spinach.  First of all, in 1971, there were no personal computers and no internet..and thus no such thing as blogging.  Then there was the matter of my intense dislike of all things green and swimming creatures.

After all, I was the kid who when treated to lunch at the legendary seafood restaurant Bookbinders, in Philadelphia, ordered a hamburger.  I was also the kid who spent most Sunday suppers at my grandparent’s home, frantically trying to conceal my peas under my mashed potatoes.   I suppose my parents took some comfort in the fact that every now and then I would eat a pickle.  You know, pickles are green.

Indeed, my culinary transformation has been as remarkable as the tech revolution.  Because here I sit decades later, giddy with excitement over the meal I made last night: a bed of cream spinach and leeks topped with seared scallops, fresh ciabatta and a fragrant Pinot Gris from Oregon.  And, thanks to the marvels of microchips and mysterious things that happen in the airwaves, I can share this recipe with you.

One point I need to emphasize: this creamed spinach is rich and flavorful beyond belief.  So if seafood isn’t your thing, feel free to make the spinach and serve it with a grilled filet mignon, roasted lamb chops, or a sauteed chicken breast.  Of course the seared scallops are in this case, total icing on the cake.  Remember the four simple rules of scallops:

  • buy fresh, preferably dry packed scallops
  • pat them dry
  • season only at the last minute and
  • get that oil as hot as possible before adding scallops to pan

This meal is minimal prep and comes together in about 15 minutes.  Nice for a busy weeknight and yet elegant enough for a dinner party, served with a dry sparkling wine.

Oh Bookbinders, had I known then what I know now…

Seared Scallops with Creamy Spinach and Leeks

2-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
10-12 oz. baby spinach (about 12 loosely packed cups)
2 medium or 1 large leek (white and light-green parts only), halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise, and rinsed (about 1 cup)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
2 Tbs. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
10 large dry-packed sea scallops
4 tsp. vegetable oil

Melt 1/2 Tbs. of the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the spinach and cook, tossing with tongs, until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer with tongs to a colander set over a bowl; let drain and cool slightly. Repeat with the remaining spinach (adding a tad more butter if necessary). Squeeze handfuls of the spinach to release as much liquid as possible.

Discard any liquid in the skillet. Melt the remaining 2 Tbs. butter over medium heat and then add the leeks and a pinch of salt. Cook until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add the wine, raise the heat to medium high, and cook until almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the cream and simmer until it’s thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. Season with 1/2 tsp. salt, a generous grind of pepper, and the nutmeg. Stir in the cheese and gently fold in the spinach. Keep warm.

Pat the scallops dry and remove the side muscle if still attached. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering hot. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Add the scallops to the pan and cook, undisturbed, until browned on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until just opaque in the center, about 2 minutes more. Serve the scallops over the spinach.

Serves 2-3 adults

Perfect Roasted Asparagus: 500°/5 Minute Master Recipe

Perfect Roasted Asparagus | DInner Is ServedTakes some courage to promise a “perfect” recipe.  And honestly, if this technique had failed me once, I would have admitted that.  However…I’ve been using this temperature and timing recipe for fresh asparagus for years and I can say without equivocation: IT HAS NEVER FAILED.  Not once.

In the infancy of my interest in cooking, asparagus was a continual source of frustration.  My tried and true “blanch and shock” technique failed on almost every occasion.  Most often resulting in limp, soggy spears, virtually tasteless.  Stir frying produced slightly better results, although seemed to work best for very thin spears.  No one technique seemed “just right.”

But then I discovered 500°/5 and my asparagus-cooking life was forever changed.  It is ridiculously simple.  Only four basic ingredients: asparagus, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Feel free to jazz it up with some lemon pepper, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice after cooking.  And if you’re so inclined to “guild the lily,” sprinkle your roasted asparagus with crumbled goat cheese and bacon.  My preferences always lean towards the simple.  And that’s the beauty: master the basic technique, then make it your own.  Isn’t this is what cooking is all about?

Perfect Roasted Asparagus: 500°/5 Minute Master Recipe

1 bunch of fresh asparagus, trimmed (see Note>)

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher Salt

Coarse ground black pepper

Non-Stick Aluminum Foil (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 500°.  Line a sheet pan with non-stick aluminum foil or brush lightly with olive oil.
  2. Place asparagus onto foil in a single layer.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.
  3. Roast in oven for 5 minutes only!  Remove immediately.  Add any additional seasonings or toppings and serve.

Note> Medium asparagus stalks work best for this technique.  Thicker stalks may be peeled, using a vegetable peeler, to make them more uniform.  Super thin stalks should be cooked for only 4 minutes (and really…save the ultra thin ones for a quick stir-fry).

Carrots and Sugar Snap Peas with Ginger Lime Butter

Carrots and Sugar Snap Peas with Ginger Lime Butter

8 oz. baby carrots, peeled (see NOTE 1>)

8 oz. sugar snap peas, trimmed

3 TBS ginger lime butter (see NOTE 2.)

2 tsp sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Snipped chives

Ginger Lime Butter

4 TBS unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tsp grated lime zest

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

To make ginger lime butter, combine all ingredients in a bowl. Shape into a cylinder 2 ½ inches in diameter and wrap in foil or plastic.  Refrigerate until firm (at least 1 hour).  Butter can be made days in advance and may be frozen for up to one month.

For vegetables, bring a saucepan of water to a boil.  Add the carrots and simmer until crisp tender, about 7 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again.

Return saucepan to stove.  Add water and a pinch or two of salt.  Bring to a boil. Add the sugar snap peas and simmer for approximately 3 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again. (Vegetables can be cooked up to four hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate, then bring to room temperature about 30 minutes before final sauté)

Combine the carrots, sugar snap peas, sugar and 4 TBS of the ginger lime butter in a skillet.  Toss over medium heat until vegetables are glazed and heated through.  Season with salt and pepper; sprinkle with chives and serve.

Serves 4

NOTE 1>  Contrary to popular belief, most carrots sold as “baby carrots” in bags at the supermarket are actually large carrots that have been cut and “molded.”   Bagged carrots can work in this recipe, but choose ones that are small and slender.  Otherwise, you may use regular carrots.  Just peel them and cut them into wedges approximately 2 ½ “ long and ½” thick.

NOTE 2You will have some leftover ginger lime butter.  Just wrap in plastic and toss with any other vegetable sauté.  It’s great with peas or green beans or asparagus.