Whenever my lovely niece Johnna asks me for a recipe, I hop to it for a few reasons. First because she is one of my favorite people on Earth and she would be yours, too, if you had the good fortune of knowing her. Second, because the lovely Johnna has a lovely little family that includes a Hungry Husband, three and a half year-old Harper, and 14 month old Walker, that she very ambitiously tries to cook for, and I’d do anything I could to help. The third reason, which is related to the second, is that I love to be needed. So the other night when Johnna saw a picture of a scallop dish I’d made for dinner and asked me for the recipe, well, this is me, hopping to it.
I cooked these scallops in Lake Placid where I am staying with my friend, Sara Foster. It was one of those inspirational collaborations that started with, “Let’s cook the scallops while they’re fresh,” (she’d brought them in a cooler from CT the day before after a particularly meat-heavy week); and “What else do we have to go with them?” and, “I remember this delicious scallop recipe Jonathan Waxman gave me for my New York book where he tossed the scallops with a quick pesto…” (I was referring to a book, beautifully shot by Quentin Bacon, that I have just learned you can get on Amazon.com for one cent. Yes: a penny.) And, cooking together while listening to Van Morrison, using what we could find from our farmers market outings and an overstuffed summer fridge, we came up with something so unexpected and delicious that afterwards, as we watched the Blue Moon come up over the Adirondacks, Sara said, “I don’t cook like that with anyone. We should open a restaurant together.” I doubt that’s going to happen, but I’m sure hope there will be more inspired meals like this one.
Although these scallops were invented in August, I call them September Scallops because the dish is made up of ingredients at that great intersection between summer and fall, when there are still great tomatoes to be found but ingredients like cabbage and kale are also there to remind you that this particular party is almost over.
4 garlic cloves
A big handful of fresh, summer basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
2 or 3 strips of bacon (preferably thick-cut), thinly sliced
1 small head of cabbage (or half of a regular head) and 1 bunch Tuscan kale (or just kale, or just cabbage)
2 medium sized tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 pounds sea scallops
Half of a lemon for juicing
Smash the garlic cloves with the side of a large knife and sprinkle them with salt. Roughly chop the garlic, then put the basil leaves on top of the garlic and continue to chop until the garlic and basil together. (The idea is to make a quick, rough pesto. The salt helps the garlic break down and also keeps it from sticking to the knife.) Scoop them into a bowl and stir in a tablespoon of the best olive oil you have. (You can also do this the French and Italian ways–in a mortar and pestle, which is where the word “pesto” got its name.)
Pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a pan, add the bacon, and cook it over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage, kale, and/or radicchio, season the vegetables with salt and pepper, and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes until they’re wilted. (How long you sauté your greens is entirely dependent on how wilted you want them. If you were using kale and/or radicchio, you could skip cooking them altogether.) Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 1 minute just to warm them through. Turn off the heat, add the pesto and toss gently to combine.
Meanwhile, heat a second pan of olive oil over medium-high heat until it’s almost smoking. Season the scallops lightly with salt. Dip one scallop into the pan as if you were dipping your toe in a swimming pool to take the temperature. If the oil doesn’t make a sizzling noise when you introduce the scallop, take it out and let the pan heat up a bit more. Cook the scallops for 1 1/2 minutes per side, until they are a rich brown color. Turn off the heat and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over them. Pile the vegetables on a platter, nestle the scallops in with the vegetables, squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over them, and dig in.