I am not one to make New Year's resolutions, but I am going to break that rule for 2009. The politics of change have pushed me to this. I want to challenge the general eating public to resolve to eat well this year. This country has been through a lot over the last eight years. Republicans. Democrats. Independents. No agreement on how to move forward, with one exception. It's time to eat well.
Now that we are done with all the politics of division, its time we had an honest conversation ourselves. Shouldn't we resolve to luxuriate in good meals? A lot of problems can be solved by good eating. And with a new administration arriving in Washington DC, let's all pledge to spend money on things that are important. Not roads. Or bridges. I am talking about quality ingredients.
It's time for investment we can understand. I don't mean $350 billion TARP program congress just passed because Wall Street failed us. Or the $800 billion economic stimulus plan President elect Obama wants. We are in the worst depression in a century. But that is no excuse to have poor food pass our lips. Quite frankly I don't see how we can afford not to eat well.
So here is an economic plan for you that will help you save money this year and might just save the economy. I am calling this attitude (or resolution) "Recession Gourmet". Dine out less this year and invest in some good ingredients that you can prepare yourself. Elevate good dishes into great ones through their intelligent and judicious application. Think of this as your personal culinary stimulus.
The new year also means there is new oil. And what Nuevo Olio should we invest in? Tuscany, where olive oil is as cherished as Catholicism? Perhaps. Andalucia, which anchors Spain's position as the largest producer of quality oil in the world. Maybe. The olive orchards at Les Baux en Provence. Shocking that we could actually consider something from France from just a few short years ago. But nevertheless, tempting.
All that said, I'd rather you stay closer to home. Local. I did just that over the holidays buying some beautifully fruity extra virgin olive oil from McEvoy Ranch grown in Petaluma, CA. Bold. Herbacious. Silken. Spicy. The United States now produces some of the best olive oil in the world. At $30 a bottle, it wasn't cheap. But the way it elevates a good, simple dish into something extraordinary. Well, let's just say that's good for Main Street.
For New Year's Eve, we discussed a sinful menu. Over the top really. Caviar. A Filet Mignon Roast. Lobster Ravioli. Champagne. Yet none of that seemed right in these uncertain and more frugal times (except the champagne which is a judicious expenditure to celebrate - not done as an everyday occurence).
We settled on a few fresh scallops, seasoned well and seared perfectly. And they rested upon a bed of humbly braised escarole, salty prosciutto, and meltingly comfortable, yet modest white beans. Not our typical New Year's Eve fare. Finished with some meyer lemon zest and a drizzle of high quality extra virgin olive oil turned this dish into something worthy of an inaugural dinner on the cheap. As this was the beginning of a new chapter (annually, politically and culinarily) we couldn't bring ourselves to scrimp on the champagne, so we paired the scallops with Veuve Clicquot.
A few high quality ingredients. Simply prepared. I pledge to live as a Recession Gourmet. Now that's a resolution I will take an oath to preserve and protect...
Recipe for Scallops with Escarole,
White Beans & New Olive Oil
1 head of escarole, quartered with core
15 oz can of white (cannellini) beans, rinsed
2 oz of prosciutto or applewood bacon
1 bay leaf
1/2 onion, peeled and halved
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups chicken stock
4 fresh divers scallops
4 TBSP olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 meyer lemon
Bring a pot of saled water to a boil. Fill a large bowl halfway with ice water.
Cook the escarole in the boiling wat for 3 minutes. Remove with tongs and then submerge in the in the ice water. This will stop the cooking and preserve the color. Squeeze out the excess liquid and remove the core. Cut the escarole into 2-3 inch strips and set aside.
Put the beans, prosciutto, bay leaf, onion, garlic and stock in a pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and onion and discard. Strain the beans, reserving about 1/2 cup if the cooking liquid. Using tongs remove the garlic and prosciutto. When cool enough to handle cut the prosciutto into 1/2 inch strips. Mash the garlic into a paste and stir into the reserved stock.
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the escarole, season with salt and pepper, and saute for 3 minutes. Add the beans and the prosciutto and cook for one minute. Stir in the cooking liquid and cook for one more minute. Taste and add salt or pepper, if needed. Keep warm.
In a medium saute pan add 2 TBSP olive oil over medium high heat. Dry the scallops and then salt and pepper them on both sides. Cook for 2 minutes on the first side. Flip them using a spatula and cook an additional 90 seconds.
Divide the escarole and bean mixture between two plates. Place two scallops on top of each plate. Using a micro plane, zest some of the meyer lemon over the scallops. Drizzle with excellent extra virgin olive oil and serve.
The recipe was modifed from Alfred Portale's Simple Pleasures. Of all the cookbooks I have (and I have a lot) this is one of the best ever.