Friday, December 08, 2006

Pan-fried scallops with lentils, crispy pancetta and lemon creme fraiche

I can still remember my first scallop - I was twenty, teaching in the south of France, and at a dinner party was given foie gras and coquilles St-Jacques - as a taste of heaven. I had written sanctimonious A-level French essays on the evils of foie gras and I was torn between eating it to be polite and refusing it to be ethical; I did eat some, but I don't remember how it tasted - I must have been feeling too guilty to taste it properly. I do remember the scallops though - it was one of my defining moments in the road to taking food seriously. I haven't eaten that many scallops since - the rubbery variety in so many Chinese restaurants hardly inspire me - but I have continued to put them high on my food pedestal. Since Simon now likes scallops too, I was longing to try this scallops dish with Puy lentils, pancetta and creme fraiche, partly because it looks fabby in Jamie's picture but partly because, let's face it, it sounds droolsomely like the sort of dish I would order, salivating, in a nice restaurant. Which isn't so off the mark since Jamie's blurb says that this is served in Fifteen.

This was a fun dish to make. I cooked the lentils in water with a bay leaf, tomato, potato, and 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, simmering for 20-25 minutes until soft (but not mushy). Then I drained off most of the water, got rid of the bay leaf and the tomato and garlic skins, and mashed the potato and tomato into the lentils. Well I would have, only my waxy potato remained resolutely solid and resisted my mashing, so I mashed some of it and discarded the rest.

To make the lemon creme fraiche I simply mixed half fat creme fraiche with the juice of a lemon, salt and pepper (measuring the lemon juice by tasting it until it had a twang - cook's privilege...).

Meanwhile, I fried the rashers of pancetta in a hot pan until golden and crisp, removing them and placing asparagus spears and scallops in the pan in their place, so that they cooked in the bacon fat until golden. I removed these, added olive oil to the pan and fried some sage leaves until crisp.

To serve, I divided the lentils between the plates and put the scallops on top, scattering the pancetta, asparagus and sage over them and finishing off with a generous dollop of lemony creme fraiche.

The picture doesn't at all convey quite how divine this dinner was. I have a new favourite! I loved the contrasting flavours and textures; I loved how the scallops and asparagus had inhaled the bacon fat; I loved the whole thing. A really fun dish to cook and eat and absolutely delicious - another little taste of heaven.

I was thinking earlier about what this project has done for me. Some people have asked fairly bluntly what the point is. I am sure the point is not to be able to say I have cooked every recipe in Jamie's latest book - that would be incredibly sad, in every sense of the word. To me, the point is mainly cooking different things, trying the recipes that I would typically ignore. Apparently most people don't try more than 3 recipes from any one cookbook; many try none. That means that we might never leave our comfort zone - might never learn to be challenged by different techniques or flavours. I feel I have left my comfort zone, and Simon has certainly left his, and that is incredibly exciting because the dishes you might never have given a second glance at sometimes can really surprise you and you open yourself up to a whole world of new tastes, which is intimidating as well as fun. Scallops, for anyone who hasn't tried them, are a fantastic place to start, as long as you don't start with the rubbery supermarket ones, because, I promise you, they really are the angels of the food world.


charlotte said...

I'm sure the flavours were great, but I'm really impressed by the colours! I love colourful food.

I haven't risked scallops since I ate them once when I didn't know I was newly pregnant and was horribly ill. I think eight years later, I might be ready to try them again, especially with pancetta. I love pancetta, with almost anything, except possibly, ice-cream. Though I think Heston Blumenthal's covered that already ...

Gravy Queen said...

Wowser ! That looks stunning !

Am I the only person who doesn't like scallops much though, I find them sickly sweet!