On Sunday, I attended a lecture sponsored by our local Italian cultural organization that was titled “Italy’s Third Golden Age.” After citing the Roman Empire and the Renaissance as the first two of these eras, the speaker turned to the post World-War-Two era as the beginning of the third. In support of her thesis, she cited Italy’s accomplishments in the cinema, automotive engineering, fashion, and food.
Although her talk was entertaining and illustrated with abundant slides of cinematic, fashion, automotive, and culinary icons, it seemed to focus more on the popular theme of la dolce vita than on any serious cultural achievements equal to those of the first two golden ages. I’m sure the Italian Trade Commission would have been quite content both with the turnout and the audience reaction.
I, on the other hand, was disappointed by some of her omissions from the roster of achievers, one of which led me to prepare the subject of today’s post. That oversight occurred in the speaker’s brief tribute to Italy’s culinary accomplishments, which began with Chef Boyardee and concluded with Lidia Bastianich.
After a week of indulging in more mundane fare like grilled steaks and summer corn, hot dogs with baked beans, and roast chicken, I thought it was time to get back into the kitchen and cook something new. We both wanted that something to be light and and my new schedule required it to be quick to prepare. Looking for a recipe to meet these requirements, I turned to one of Marcella Hazan’s lesser known books, Marcella’s Italian Kitchen. Still widely available online, I find it a more personal book than her better known and widely acclaimed Classic Italian Cooking volumes.
The recipe I chose for dinner last night was one of two in the book for scallops, “Sautéed Scallops with Rosemary and Lemon.” Hazan describes her dish as “simple and very fragrant,” which, in my opinion, is an understatement. The recipe calls for a minimum of ingredients and, including prep time, can be on the table in fewer than thirty minutes That’s simple. But what makes this dish a keeper is its unctuous sauce, redolent with fresh rosemary, pale-gold garlic, and fresh lemon juice. It makes a perfect first course for a more formal dinner or, served with plain rice or crusty bread, an elegant entree for a weekday supper.
If you choose to make this dish for two, you can reduce the amount of scallops. However, I would not cut back on the recipe’s other ingredients, as they yield a sauce so delicious you may find yourselves, like we did, licking your plates to savor every last drop.
To heighten the citrus factor, I used the zest of one lemon, which I added to the pan along with the juice.
Sautéed Scallops with Rosemary and Lemon Adapted from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen
1.5 pounds small bay scallops
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (Use the best quality you have available.)
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and sliced very thin
1.5 teaspoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon (optional)
Wash and, using a towel, thoroughly pat dry the scallops.
Choose a skillet large enough to eventually accommodate the scallops in a single layer. Start by adding the olive oil and sliced garlic to the empty skillet and place over medium heat.
As soon as the garlic turns a pale gold, add the rosemary and stir quickly. (Do not let the garlic turn brown or it will overwhelm the delicate flavor of the scallops.)
Add the scallops, and season with salt and ground pepper to taste. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, until the scallops change from translucent to a flat white.
Add the lemon juice and zest, turn up the heat as high as possible, stir once or twice, then transfer to warm plates and coat with the sauce. Serve immediately.