pescatarian

Seared Scallops with Porcini Mushroom Risotto

Before my parents left for a recent trip to Italy, they asked us what we wanted them to bring back. Immediately, my mind went in the direction of food. Olive oil, maybe? Could they grab all the cheese? Then my mom suggested leather gloves and we agreed that'd be a very useful gift (this was in February when the temps kept dropping and the snow piled high). We sent them off with drawings of our hands and they returned with stunning, lamb's wool-lined gloves. Of course, now it's 70 degrees and I'm sitting here wearing shorts and flip-flops, so we'll have to wait until the fall to bust them out. My mom was generous enough to also split a bag of dried porcini mushrooms she procured during their travels.  "They said it'd be great in a risotto." And as soon as she said it, I couldn't get it out of my head. That perfect spring-time dish... warm and hearty for those cooler nights. If you wanted to simplify the meal (and keep it vegetarian), the scallops can certainly be omitted, but I was craving seafood (ok, I'm always craving seafood) and that sweet ocean flavor meshed perfectly with the lemony risotto. 

SEARED SCALLOPS WITH PORCINI MUSHROOM RISOTTO

SERVINGS
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
3 1/2 cups boiling water
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound sea scallops
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt
Black pepper

DIRECTIONS

1. Place porcini mushrooms in a large mixing bowl. Pour boiling water over mushrooms and soak until softened, about 20 minutes. Strain the liquid into a large pot. Chop mushrooms and set aside.

2. Add the vegetable broth to the same pot containing the mushroom liquid and set over medium-high heat. 

3. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large sauce pan (or risotto pan) set over medium heat. Add the chopped shallot and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the garlic, thyme, and porcini mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes.  

4. Stir in the Arborio rice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the white wine and give it a stir. Cook until the wine is fully absorbed. 

5. Add the broth to the pan one ladle at a time, making sure to stir the risotto frequently. When the broth has been absorbed, add another. Continue with the remaining broth and cook risotto until it's tender. Once cooked, stir in peas. 

6. Mix the lemon zest and most of the Parmesan into the risotto.

7. Dry the sea scallops with paper towels.  Season with salt and pepper.

8. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter on high heat.  Once it begins to smoke, add the scallops and cook for approximately 3 minutes, or until it has browned on one side.  Using tongs, flip the scallops and cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, depending on the size of the scallops.

9. Divide risotto into bowls. Top with scallops and garnish with more chopped parsley and lemon zest. 

Mussels with Sweet Potato Fries and Garlic Aioli

MUSSELS-2892.jpg

If there was ever a question that global warming is real, just ask anyone in New England what the last few weeks have been like and we'll tell you something isn't right. We had very little snow in January, but by the beginning of February we got nailed with back to back storms. In a single five day stretch, close to thirty inches fell. Two weeks later, however, the temperatures were in the fifties and crept up into the sixties, which is unseasonably warm for these parts.  Now, I'm sure some folks are saying "That sounds awesome. Stop complaining!" And, don't worry, I've been enjoying it. But this isn't normal. 

The spike in temps brought out all the little critters, too, including a skunk that sprayed Maki in our backyard. I'm not sure there is any smell worse than skunk. A friend compared it to that of burning tires, but I have to throw gasoline in there too. It's just awful. And it got into our house. Maki received multiple baths that night and the next day Eric took her to get another wash. Even with all of that, she still has a bit of a funk to her (especially her head, where she got sprayed). The irony of it all is that while the warm weather brought the skunk out of hibernation, because it was so warm we could leave the windows open for three straight days to air it out. It all worked out. But it was a bit traumatizing for everyone. 

This bowl of mussels was our Valentine's Day meal from a few weeks ago. I'd meant to share it earlier, but things have just been a bit crazy over here and I never got around to it. Sorry about that. Better late than never, right? I am a huge fan of mussels. It always feels so elegant and decadent, but takes very little work to prepare. To elevate it further, I served them with sweet potato fries and a garlic aioli. A spin on moules frites. I tried to resist eating the whole thing, but failed miserably. Go ahead and make it and you'll see what I mean. 

MUSSELS WITH SWEET POTATO FRIES and garlic AIOLI

SERVINGS
4 servings

INGREDIENTS
For the sweet potato fries
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil

For the aioli
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil

For the mussels
2 1/2 lbs mussels, debearded
1 shallot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 plum tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons dry vermouth

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While it is heating, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut sweet potatoes into sticks that are 1/4 inch by 1/2 inch wide by 3 inch long. In a small bowl, stir together salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and paprika. In a large mixing bowl, toss the sweet potato with the cornstarch until lightly coated. Toss with olive oil and season with salt mixture. 

2. Spread the potatoes in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, until brown and crispy on one side. Take out of oven and flip potatoes. Return to oven for another 10-12 minutes until crispy. 

3. To make the aioli, put the egg yolk in a medium-sized mixing bowl, along with the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, garlic, and salt.  Using a whisk, gently blend the ingredients. Now, whisking continuously, but not too quickly, start to pour in the olive oil a couple drops at a time. Do this until you've used half of the oil and the aioli starts to take form. At this point, you don't have to be as careful and can pour in a larger stream of oil. Whisk in the remaining oil. Taste for seasoning and, if necessary, add salt. Transfer to a bowl with a lid and transfer to the refrigerator. 

4. For the mussels, heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot and, stirring continuously, cook for 30 seconds. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add chopped tomato and, stirring occasionally, cook for 1 minute.  Sprinkle in thyme. Add mussels, heavy cream and dry vermouth. Season with salt and pepper and cover skillet. Cook, occasionally shaking the skillet, until the mussels have opened.  Spoon mussels into bowls. Serve with sweet potato fries and mayonnaise.

Cucumbers in Garlic Sauce

Towards the end of our first date, Eric and I went to a gay bar in the South End. We ordered gin and tonics (or, as our bartender poured them, a glass of gin with a splash of tonic) and found ourselves a table. As we'd already covered most of the big topics... where we grew up, stories from our childhood... it was time to get creative with our conversation. "What's your favorite food?" I asked him. Seemed like a good question. I expected his answer to be ice cream or pizza. You know, something normal. "Cucumbers," he said. Cucumbers. I was intrigued. "Why cucumbers?" He looked at me, shrugged, and said, "I don't know. I just really like cucumbers." I let it go, but I just couldn't believe that of all the deliciousness out in the world, cucumbers was his favorite food.

After all these years of being together, I can honestly say the man loves his cucumbers. Pickled are preferred, but he'll take them however he can get them. His mom makes a cucumber salad that I'm obsessed with (and my parents have become fans too). And we have our new go-to app from our favorite Chinese restaurant that's cucumbers in garlic sauce. This sweet-garlicky (and just a touch spicy) creation is totally addictive and we can't help but order it every time. I figured, though, that it was time that I learn how to make it myself. So, here we have it... my adapted version. Technically, it's vegetarian (take out the fish sauce) and it could easily be made nut-free. And for those who are adverse to cilantro (like Eric), that can be removed too. But I think all three make for a really fantastic combo.

CUCUMBERS IN GARLIC SAUCE

NOTE
One could peel the cucumbers or use Persian cucumbers if you prefer less skin. I prefer the crunch that the skin provides.

SERVINGS
3-4 as a side

INGREDIENTS
3 cucumbers, ends trimmed
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons, soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce, optional

Chopped peanuts, optional
Chopped cilantro, optional
 

DIRECTIONS
1. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise again and then cut into 2-inch long pieces. Place the cucumber into a bowl and sprinkle with salt and garlic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes. Drain any liquid that has come from the cucumbers. Transfer to a serving bowl.

2. In a bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce (if using) and sugar. Pour the dressing over the cucumbers and stir to coat. Sprinkle red pepper flakes on top, along with the chopped peanuts and cilantro. Serve immediately.