Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In the kitchen with Oprah's chef

Episode four in the cookbook series.

I don't exactly remember why I bought In the Kitchen with Rosie, the cookbook published in 1994 by Oprah Winfrey's personal chef. I had a child a year old. Possibly the book interested me because it was small and colorful and the recipes looked, mostly, straightforward and simple: all appealing things when you're juggling a new baby for the first time. Maybe I was thinking it would be a nice time to have a personal chef, but I wouldn't have dwelled on that. Rosie's smiling face and encouraging command of the basics ("First, organize your kitchen and familiarize yourself with it . . .") were the kind of thing I needed.

One day, juggling the baby at the grocery store, carrying the cookbook with me as a grocery list--skipping, in haste, a crucial step--I lost it. I left the book in the grocery cart (for another shopper, a lucky day). So I bought another one, only to be shocked at my extravagance. As it seems with a lot of cookbooks, there were only a handful of recipes that I would probably have ever attempted. Was the whole book worth it for that? I could have gone to the library and made a few photocopies. Still it was a cheerful book, nice to have around.

Till yesterday, I hadn't cracked it in years.

Judging by the stains on the pages, the pasta recipes are what attracted me the most. Now that our baby is old enough to tolerate moderately spicy foods--which, of course, we encourage him to do--I chose one of them for dinner.

"Bow Tie Pasta with Blackened Scallops"

For the pepper sauce

2 roasted red bell peppers [Rosie teaches how to roast them, but I used a 7 oz. jar]
1/3 c chopped shallot [green onions]
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
1 T sherry vinegar
1/2 c seafood stock [hard to find even in Chapel Hill! I used vegetable stock]
2 T chopped fresh basil or 1 T dried basil

For the cilantro pesto

2 T chopped walnuts
2/3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 c fresh cilantro leaves (2 bunches)
1/2 c seafood stock
3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

8 oz. dried bow tie (butterfly) pasta
16 large sea scallops (about 1 pound) [heeding certain warnings, I chose bay scallops instead]
4 T blackening seasoning [I've made my own but this time used Pluto's Caribbean Bliss, made in Carrboro]
1 T paprika
1 t dried thyme
1/2 lemon

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.

In the meantime, make the sauce. Put the roasted peppers, shallots, garlic, and vinegar in a blender and puree until smooth. Add 1/2 c seafood stock and the basil and mix until blended. Transfer the mixture to a small saucepan, cover, and warm over the lowest heat setting.

For the cilantro pesto, put the walnuts, garlic, and cilantro in the bowl of a food processor. [My Hamilton Beach blender was up to this.] Turn the machine on and add 1 T of the seafood stock through the feed tube. Drizzle in the lemon juice to form a paste. Transfer the contents of the food processor to a small mixing bowl and whisk in another 3 T of the stock.

When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta to the pot. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, to desired tenderness. Drain.

Dust the scallops with the blackening seasoning, paprika, and thyme. Heat a heavy frying pan for 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat. Spray the pan with vegetable oil. Add the prepared scallops and sear them for 2 minutes on each side. Reduce the heat to low and squeeze the lemon over the scallops. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until the scallops are firm. [Less for bay scallops or they will be tough.]

Return the drained pasta to the pot. Over low heat, stir in the cilantro pesto.

Divide the pasta among 4 bowls. Place 4 [or more!] scallops on top of each and pour the pepper sauce over the scallops. [Variation: layer as suggested over a bed of Romaine, trimmed with slices of fresh red and green pepper.]

The verdict: very good! There's a real difference between this recipe and the other three I've blogged about, all c. 1970s: This one is distinctly lighter and fresher. By Rosie's time we have come through the Alice Waters revolution: the quality and freshness of the ingredients is key. (The Edible Schoolyard project that she inspired at the Martin Luther King Junior Middle School in Berkeley is pretty incredible.)

Thanks, Rosie. I think I'll check in with you more often.

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