Friday, January 16, 2009

63 days to Spring

In the midst of announcing the coldest cold spell of the winter—it’ll hover between zero and the teens for the next several days—some television announcer reminded that in 63 days it’ll be Spring. That marker doesn’t always signify much real change on the ground in New England, of course, but it allows a total shift in my imagination. I start to poke around under the snow drifts for the first daffodil spears, and I start to think light and fresh when I’m planning a meal. And, thankfully, even the idea that Spring is close enough to be counted in days away (ok, so 63 days is more than 2 months, but in days it seems so much closer), made some kind of a shift in my thinking. To be honest, I’ve been bored and uncreative in the kitchen lately, thinking all I have to work with are the same old cuts of meat, the same old heavy and dark flavors of winter. Last night, I finally saw what has been right in front of me the whole time: champagne left over from New Year’s eve (and from a few other mostly-empty bottles demonstrating our commitment to a resolution to drink more champagne throughout the year), leeks, a few canned and bottled staples that go into so many winter dishes, and scallops (not only, as Renée discovered, are scallops actually in season now, in New England a generic “product of the USA” on seafood, even in the middle of winter, often translates to local!). The result was, I have to say, not only delicious but absolutely fresh and different from anything we’ve eating in weeks (though it feels like months).

SCALLOPS WITH CHAMPAGNE AND CAPERS
Serves 2-4 (for more, start doubling ingredients)
½ lb scallops per person
2 leeks, sliced
Juice of 1 lemon (or about ¼ cup bottled lemon juice)
About 1 cup champagne or white wine
About ½ cup capers, drained
Salt and pepper

Sauté the leeks for a few minutes. Add in the scallops and salt and pepper. Then add the champagne, lemon juice, and capers. Almost everyone says to cooks scallops lightly, about 7 minutes, flipping them once. But with this recipe and the succulent super-fresh scallops we have right now, my favorite is to bring it to a boil and simmer until the liquid is almost completely gone (about 15 minutes). The scallops end up very well done but still amazingly tender and totally imbued with the flavors of the sauce.

And to follow through on my “variations on Renée’s favorites” (sometimes just a different version of mac n cheese can add the sense of change and newness I seem to so crave in the winter) I have to put in a plug for Emeril’s mac n cheese, http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/macaroni-with-4-cheeses-recipe/index.html.