The Recipes of Madison County: Scallops

My appetite is largely dictated by what the weather is doing outside. This is, for the most part, a fairly simple formula to follow: at the extreme ends of this spectrum, winter snow equals hearty, beefy stews, whereas summer sun means lighter fare more focused on seasonal produce. Perhaps I’ve been at Colgate for too long, but the recent rise in temperature (it was almost 40 degrees!) seems nearly balmy to my winter-hardened skin, and my stomach wanted something different.

I was able to get my hands on fresh sea scallops (try Wegman’s), and these plump white jewels were longing for a simple preparation and tangy sauce. For me, scallops are a quintessentially warm-weather food. Since it is still early March, though, (I may be jumping the gun with talk of “balmy” weather), these babies had to be slightly winterized. Young, tender vegetables aren’t exactly in their prime yet, but I didn’t want to overwhelm the delicate flavor of these sweet mollusks.

Seafood, in general, loves white wine, butter, garlic and lemon – and so do I. Using these pantry staples in addition to my other go-to pair of canned whole tomatoes and cannelini beans, my beautiful scallops were transformed into a dish that teetered on the cusp of spring while still retaining some hearty winter flavors.

This sauce is so delicious I would drink it straight up. A more acceptable option, if scallops are unavailable, would be to replace them with another shellfish or fish, or turn it into a fresh, simple pasta sauce on its own.


(Serves two generously)

3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, divided

Olive oil

6 large sea scallops

Salt and pepper

2 shallots, minced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

A couple generous glugs of dry white wine

½ of a 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes, juices reserved for another use

1 15-ounce can of canellini (white kidney) beans, drained and rinsed

1 lemon, cut in half

2 large handfuls of baby spinach

Toasted baguette rubbed with garlic, for serving (optional but highly recommended)

Pat the scallops dry with paper towels to ensure a good sear and then season them on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and some olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until butter begins to foam, and add scallops. Cook them on each side for 2 ½ minutes, and do not move them around. The goal here is to just cook them through and give them a crunchy, golden crust. Moving them around the pan like a stir-fry will ensure that this will not happen.

Carefully take the scallops out of the pan with a spatula and put them on a plate to rest. To the same sauté pan, add one more tablespoon of butter and scrape up the delicious brown bits that the scallops left behind. Add the shallots and the garlic, and cook until the shallots begin to sweat, about 3 minutes (shallots are like a more mild onion. If you can’t find them, replace them with about a third of a white onion).

When the shallots and garlic are sweaty and become fragrant, add a couple glugs of dry white wine (I would roughly estimate about ½ cup, but use your good judgment) to the pan and continue to scrape up anything delicious that has been left behind. When cooking with wine (or any alcohol), remember that all the booze will be cooked off and you’ll be left with the alcohol’s essential flavors. So, unless you genuinely like the taste of Franzia, invest in something a little nicer for your food (if not for yourself).

Let the wine simmer until the alcohol has cooked off, about 3 minutes. Begin to add the tomatoes, gently (they splatter!), and break them up loosely with a fork when they’re in the pan. Add salt and pepper – those tomatoes absorb it – and taste. Cook for another 3 minutes, and then add the remaining tablespoon of butter.

Add the canellini beans and stir gently. Let them incorporate into and thicken the sauce for another couple of minutes Adjust your seasonings, and add the juice of half the lemon.

Put a generous handful of spinach into each of two bowls. Gently pour half the sauce onto each bowl to let the spinach wilt a bit, and divide the scallops. Add more lemon juice, and serve with warm, garlicky baguette to soak up the extra sauce.