- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Coquilles St. Jacques, the French name for sea scallops, is also the name of a classic method of preparation in which the scallops are cooked in a white-wine cream sauce and then placed in a ramekin, where they are dusted with cheese and bread crumbs and gratineed.

I prepared the classic version in cooking school and won high praise for the creaminess of the sauce and for not overcooking the scallops. I wondered how the scallops could still show off their amazing succulent flavor without being quite so heavy.

Days later, I was at a small bistro and ordered Coquilles St. Jacques Provencal. This rosy melange of sauteed plump scallops glazed with a tomato herbed wine sauce was presented right in the scallop shells. I was in heaven. Tomatoes, wine, garlic, fresh herbs and olive oil are the cornerstone ingredients for Provencal cooking.

I have adapted the original Cordon Bleu dish into a lighter version that still gives you all of the flavor without unnecessary calories. This recipe uses sea scallops that are larger than the tiny bay scallops. Sea scallops have a meaty texture and are wonderful for quickly sauteing.

Remember: All scallops are not the same. Look for dry-packed scallops that are chemical-free. Sometimes you can find fresh diver scallops that are usually very large and are hand-selected by the diver. Avoid wet-packed scallops that are preserved by a chemical solution. You can also make this dish with the smaller bay variety, but you will have to quickly cook the tiny scallops so that they stay tender and don’t become rubbery.

This dish is easy and quick to prepare, and it can be served as a first course or as a main course. It may seem heavy on the garlic, so adjust for your taste. If you intend this to be a first course, serve 2 or 3 scallops per person in a small shallow ramekin or ceramic scallop shell.

As a main course, figure at least 4 scallops per person. You can serve orzo or rice on the side. Don’t forget some crusty bread to dip in the sauce. To drink, why not a French Sancerre or a California chardonnay? I might even serve a bright fresh zinfandel to pick up the tomato flavor.

Help is on the way:

• When sauteing the scallops, make sure to have the pan very hot and let each side of the scallop cook until it is golden brown.

• If you don’t have crushed tomatoes, use whole tomatoes and crush them with an immersion blender or a food mill.

• Prepare these just before serving.

• Use the same wine for cooking as you use for drinking.

• Use red wine instead of white for a more intense flavor.

Coquilles St.-Jacques Provencal

Makes 4 main-course servings.

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons white wine

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped basil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 pounds scallops

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, for garnish

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the shallots and saute for 2 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and saute another minute or until softened but not brown. Add the tomatoes, wine, herbs, salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Cook on medium heat for about 3 to 5 minutes, or until the sauce is slightly thickened. Taste for seasoning.

Place the flour in a sealable plastic bag and add salt and pepper. Shake it. Place the scallops in the bag and shake the bag around until the scallops are lightly coated with the flour.

In another large skillet heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the scallops and saute on each side for about 2 minutes or until golden brown. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons wine and deglaze the pan. Add the tomato sauce to the scallops and stir to coat the scallops. Place in serving dish and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

• Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Holidays.” To contact her, visit www.seriouslysimple.com.

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