Let’s start with the pre-dinner cocktail…
Around the same time last year, my mom and I separately tried an Ice Wine martini for the first time. I had never heard of Ice Wine* before, but was feeling adventurous one night at Cru (which has since closed, sadly, but I’m sure that is in no way related to their martini-making skills). Not only did it sound really cool, it was absolutely delicious. When my mom tried it for the first time, she and her friends asked the bartender how to make it.
*Ice Wine can be expensive because it’s apparently very labor-intensive to produce, but my mom found a reasonably priced bottle made from Riesling grapes at Trader Joe’s.
Ice Wine Martini
One part vodka
One part Ice Wine
Frozen grape for garnish
Shake the vodka and Ice Wine with ice, strain, and drop in a frozen grape.
Next, we put together a simple Bresaola Platter with arugula, parmigiano-reggiano, and truffle oil. My aunt always puts out a platter of this on Christmas and it gets devoured everytime. The plating of it is similar to how a beef carpaccio is sometimes served: thin layer of beef topped with shavings of parmigiano-reggiano, drizzled with olive oil, and served with arugula. For this appetizer, the only differences are the use of bresaola (a lean, cured beef) instead of raw beef and truffle oil instead of olive oil. I also tossed the arugula in a little bit of lemon juice and olive oil and served it all with sliced baguette.
Time for the main course: Seared Scallops with Pappardelle and Saffron Sauce
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have an obsession with saffron. I blame this on eating my dad’s ridiculously-delicious Paella growing up. I’d put saffron in everything if I could, but I try to use it sparingly (you know, with it being the most expensive spice in the world and all). But hey, we already broke out the truffle oil – why not add some saffron?
I came up with this sauce awhile ago to put on some lobster ravioli and I think it pairs really well with shellfish, in general. This time, I made it with seared scallops and pappardelle. There’s an incredible fish market right down the street from my parents’ house called the New Deal that sells THE BEST dry sea scallops. When you buy sea scallops, it’s very important that you get *dry* scallops if you want to sear them. Otherwise, you will probably end up with a scallop that’s “plumped up” with water but will shrink and be rubbery when you cook it. Some markets will actually sell these soaked scallops as dry scallops, so you really have to talk to the fish monger and make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for. Believe me – it’s well worth it. Now I just have to find a fish store like New Deal in Chicago…
One more note on this recipe: I usually throw some chopped chives on top of this kind of dish for some color, but I recently had a similar sauce over ravioli at a restaurant and it was topped with some variety of microgreen. It made the dish look beautiful and the greens cut through the richness of the sauce really nicely. I thought it was a brilliant idea, so I stole it :). I’m not sure how difficult microgreens are to find because I had never actually looked for them before last weekend, but I found a pretty big selection of them at the small Whole Foods on Prospect St. in Cambridge. I went with the micro-arugula because it looked the freshest, but I think most varieties would work well.
1 medium-sized shallot, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, whole
2 tbsp. butter, room temperature
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. brandy
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 ½ c. seafood stock
¾ c. mascarpone cheese
Pinch of saffron
1 lb. dry sea scallops
½ lb. pappardelle
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat ½ tbsp. each of the butter and the olive oil in saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the whole clove of garlic and sauté for a few minutes, but don’t let it burn. Remove the garlic clove so you’re left with a garlicky butter/oil mixture but with no visible garlic.
2. Turn up the heat to medium to medium-high and sauté the shallot until soft.
3. Add the brandy to the saucepan and let it cook for 30 seconds or so.
4. Add the tomato paste, the seafood stock, the saffron, and some salt and pepper (to taste). Let this mixture cook down for about 15 minutes until reduced a little bit.
5. Add the mascarpone cheese to thicken the sauce and make it creamy. I ended up using about ¾ c., but you can adjust the amount depending on how rich you want the sauce to be.
6. Cook the pappardelle according to package directions until al-dente and toss with the sauce.
7. Pat down the scallops with paper towels until they are as dry as you can get them. Season with a little bit of salt and pepper.
8. Heat a cast iron skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining ½ tbsp. of olive oil and 1 ½ tbsp. of butter. Add the scallops and sear for about one minute on each side. They should be golden brown on the outside, and cooked to about medium on the inside.
9. To plate, I arranged the scallops around the edges of the pasta and put a small handful of the micro-arugula in the middle.
My mom and I aren’t huge dessert people, but we do like to have a small taste of something sweet at the end of a nice meal. Since we had some strawberries that needed using, I used them to top some vanilla frozen yogurt and made a sweet balsamic-basil syrup to drizzle on top. I’ve seen strawberry-basil desserts at restaurants a lot lately and I’ve seen people make balsamic dessert syrups on tv before, so I combined the two ideas into a simple but elegant dessert. My mom was skeptical about having vinegar in her dessert, but I talked her into trying it and she was very pleasantly surprised.
Vanilla Ice Cream with Strawberries and Balsamic-Basil Syrup
Vanilla ice cream (or frozen yogurt)
½ c. sugar
1 c. balsamic vinegar
5-10 fresh basil leaves
1. Combine the vinegar and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
2. When the sugar has dissolved, add 5-10 basil leaves (depending on how strong you want the syrup to be).
3. Reduce the syrup by about half, strain, and cool.
4. Drizzle the syrup over the strawberries and ice cream. Garnish with a basil leaf.