Another delicious seafood antipasto at La Perla in Calasetta was scallops gratin with almonds. The nice thing about Italian cooking is that once you know the ingredients (vocabulary) and cooking techniques (grammar), you can very easily reconstruct dishes (sentences) without even having to ask for the recipe. In this case I noticed the scallops were accompanied by almonds, breadcrumbs, onions, and parsley. Breadcrumbs are often included as a ‘filler’ instead of the expensive almonds, so for more flavor I decided to skip the breadcrumbs and just use almonds. And I used shallots instead of onions. The result was phenomenal and better than my memory of the dish at La Perla. The sweet creamy shallots worked wonderfully with the crispy nutty almonds and meaty slightly sweet scallop. This is a fantastic appetizer for a dinner party with great effect for relatively little effort, so very well recommended. You can prepare it in advance and just pop it in the oven for 10 minutes before serving. Here’s what I did…
For 2 servings, but recipe can be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled
2 large sea scallops, preferably fresh in their shells (see below), but you can also make this recipe with scallops that are already shucked
1 large or 2 small shallots, minced
25 grams (2 Tbsp) blanched almonds
1/2 Tbsp minced flat leaf parsley
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
There are two reasons why it is best to use fresh scallops in the shell for this. First because such scallops have more flavor and second because they will provide you with a retro way of serving the scallops on their shell. Click here to read more about shopping for scallops.
To open the scallop, insert a sharp knife into the shell and cut as close as you can along the flat side of the shell.
The white part that looks like a marshmallow is what you want to eat (it is the muscle that keeps the shell closed and is used to swim). Carefully cut the muscle away from the round shell, and remove all the other stuff with your fingers. If you like you can keep the roe (the orange stuff, not visible in the photo above) attached.
Rinse the scallop well with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Keep the round half of the shell for serving.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Sear the scallops over high heat for 1 minute per side. Transfer the scallops to a plate and season on all sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Searing the scallops before baking them adds another layer of flavor, because they won’t sear properly in the oven.
Add 1 large or 2 small minced shallots to the olive oil and scallop drippings that remain in the pan. Season with salt.
Stir over medium heat until the shallots are soft and have picked up the drippings, about 5 minutes. Watch the heat carefully as you want soft shallots, not crispy shallots.
Preheat the oven to 225C/450F.
Chop 25 grams of almonds until they are medium fine. There should be fine pieces as well as larger pieces, but not big pieces.
On each shell arrange first a layer of shallots sprinkled with parsley, then a scallop, and top with the remaining shallots and sprinkle again with parsley.
Sprinkle with an even layer of chopped almonds, both on and around the scallops. Season with salt. Up until this point
Bake about 10 minutes at 225C/450F or until the almonds are golden and the scallops are barely cooked through. Serve at once.
Many Italian whites have a hint of almonds and would work very well with this, like Vermentino or Verdicchio.
Samphire has been an easily available ingredient around here for years, but I haven’t been using it very often. As it is such a local ingredient to me, it had not occurred to me to use it in Italian cooking. Samphire is known as ‘sea asparagus’ (asparagi di mare) or salicornia in Italy and here I made pasta with shrimp and samphire with it. Another samphire recipe will follow soon.