Really, just those three things, plus salt, pepper, olive oil, and fresh lemon. High heat, maybe, is another equal player in this equation. Plus, that makes it all the faster to throw together. I was looking for something to really treat myself with this weekend (and coming off my $1.50 meal in the last post). I just didn’t expect that it would take so little effort, and time.
When I saw that fresh sea scallops were on sale at Blue Moon Fish at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, I decided that this would be my splurge. It’s an ingredient that I seldom buy for myself, keeping it reserved to events, or very rare dinner parties. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever put sea scallops on the menu at a casual dinner with friends before, so maybe not even the latter. But I have a good feeling that I will soon, now that the weather’s gotten warmer and I’ve found it to be such an easy, delicious crutch for those quick-thinking moments of home entertaining.
So there I was, with a bag of four huge scallops on ice, wondering what to do next at the Greenmarket. Grab some fresh mint? Were there any chilies, or fresh peas to be found, perhaps? No. It’s way too early in the season for many vegetables and herbs, especially the ones you’d prepare just as fresh and as quickly as seared sea scallops. I really couldn’t see beets or cabbage working well with this ingredient. But one farmstand did have a special offering, and it was thanks to their greenhouse operations: fresh zucchini. And cucumbers! Zucchini is and has always been one of my favorites, though, so when I saw what were clearly just-picked, squeaky-fresh ones at this stand, I melted. And imagined how its flash-seared flesh would similarly against a very hot pan.
I compared the widths of both scallops and zucchini and determined that they would make fetching lookalikes once they were golden-brown discs. Then I needed a sauce, or something to tie it all together. Preferably something that wasn’t pale or white like their surfaces, too. Nixed the bean puree thought, nixed the parsnip puree, couldn’t wrap my head around the beet puree, and I was leaning towards some kind of carrot-y thing before I realized I was really hungry and didn’t want to take much time. Avocado! It was a creamy sauce in thin slices itself, fresh and without any tampering with.
So here’s a spring recipe that really puts you in gear for simple, summer cooking. It’s minimal and ingredient-focused, taking the best of what’s available. I’m sure that if you’re reading this a couple weeks or months from now, you can go ahead and use those cherry tomatoes or green garlic, snap peas and who knows what. Or, if you’re reading this in winter, you’ll be thinking along the lines of a juicy steak, surrounded by baby turnips or carrots that are just as quick and easy to cook, and to appreciate in all its simplicity.
Seared Scallops and Zucchini with Avocado
(makes 2 servings)
8-10 (1-1.5lbs) large sea scallops
1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced thinly
2-3 small-medium fresh zucchini or summer squash, cut to 1/2″ discs
juice of 1 fresh lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling as a finishing touch, optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Arrange the thinly sliced halves of avocado on two separate plates in a fan. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a squeeze each from the lemon.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a heavy-bottom pan or skillet (such as a cast-iron pan) over high heat. Arrange the zucchini slices on the pan and season with salt and pepper. Let sear until golden-brown on one side, then flip (after about 1 minute) to sear the other sides another minute. Remove from the pan.
Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Arrange the scallops so that they have almost 1 inch apart on the pan. Season with salt and pepper and don’t turn or move them for the first minute. Peek on the undersides afterward and once golden-brown (after about 2 minutes), flip over to sear the opposite side another minute or so. Remove from the pan.
To serve, arrange half the zucchini and scallops on each plate with the avocado. Squeeze as much of the lemon on each to taste, and enjoy immediately.
(for 2 servings)
1 lb sea scallops (at $12.99/lb): $12.99
2 zucchini (at $2.50/lb): $2.50
1 avocado: $3.00
1 lemon: $0.33
2 Tb olive oil, salt, pepper: $0.20
Not all things that are an indulgent luxury are bad for you. In fact, each of the ingredients in this dish is pretty darn good for you in different ways. In addition to protein and omega-3 fatty acids thanks to the seafood entrée, scallops contain huge levels of Vitamin B12, iodine, selenium and phosphorous. Like all seafood, it comes with cholesterol, too. Then the avocado, today’s trendiest superfood, has heart-healthy fats along with fiber and Vitamin K. Eat a whole zucchini (lightly cooked), skin and all, and you’re getting plenty more vitamins and minerals from its deep green skin.
Five maple leaves: Local, year-round sea scallops from the Long Island fisheries (and those found around the world) get a “Best Choice” rating from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Don’t be afraid to splurge on them more. But the avocado, imported from Mexico, is another story altogether. Our avocado cravings are simply unsustainable with the drought in California—plus messy and irresponsible water management elsewhere. Not to mention all those fossil fuels burned in transporting them to the East Coast. This exotic and water-intensive crop is instead best enjoyed on rare occasion, like an luxury rather than an everyday bagel spread.