- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

When good friends who live in Washington telephoned to say they would be in our town in Massachusetts for several days, I immediately marked a date on the calendar when we could get together.

Originally, I had thought that we might dine out, but while testing recipes this past week, I realized that a new dish I had been working on would make a perfect entree to serve four.

That recipe was for sauteed scallops dusted in pimenton — smoked Spanish paprika — and served atop a mound of saffron- and orange-scented couscous.

Pimenton comes in three types: dulce, agridulce and piccante (sweet, medium-hot and hot). It is different from bland grocery store paprika and even from the more celebrated Hungarian paprika. It is made with pimiento peppers that are slowly smoked over oak wood, then ground to a fine powder. The best known pimenton comes from the La Vera region of Extremadura in western Spain.

Pimenton imparts a wonderful smoky accent and a hint of sweetness to foods, and is available in gourmet stores and in some groceries. I am crazy about this distinctive spice.

Since my pimenton was the sweet version, I decided to use it along with cumin and some black and cayenne pepper (for a touch of heat) as a rub for large sea scallops. If using the agridulce or medium-hot pimenton, omit the black and cayenne pepper.

After a quick pan frying, the scallops are a rich mahogany brown and look striking served with golden couscous seasoned with saffron and orange zest. For serving, I garnish each plate with an orange wedge to squeeze over the fish. The scallops and couscous take less than 30 minutes to prep and cook — ideal for a weeknight when our dinner will be held.

As sides, I’ve planned a spinach and walnut salad tossed in a red wine vinaigrette and a loaf of warm sourdough bread purchased from a local bakery. For dessert, there will be dark chocolate pots de creme (decadently rich little puddings) topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate and coffee. A simple menu for a foursome on a cold winter night.

Scallops with smoked paprika with orange couscous

COUSCOUS:

Water

4 teaspoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed

1½ cups instant couscous

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

SCALLOPS:

1½ teaspoons smoked paprika (Spain’s pimenton dulce — see note)

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

12 extra large sea scallops (11/4 to 1½ pounds), side muscles removed

Kosher salt

Olive oil for sauteing scallops

1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

4 orange wedges

For the couscous, in a medium saucepan with a lid, add 2 cups water, 4 teaspoons olive oil and saffron, and bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat and stir in couscous, ½ teaspoon salt, butter, and orange zest. Cover and let stand at least 5 minutes or longer while you prepare the scallops. Fluff couscous with a fork before serving.

For scallops, mix together the paprika, cumin, black pepper and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Then spread the mixture on a dinner plate. Pat dry the scallops and roll each one on all sides in the spice mixture.

Coat the bottom of a large, heavy skillet with a thin layer of olive oil and place skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add enough scallops to fit comfortably in a single layer and saute, about 2 to 3 minutes per side until cooked through. Remove and continue, adding more oil if needed, until all scallops are cooked. Season scallops with salt.

To serve, spoon a mound of couscous on each of 4 dinner plates and top each serving with 3 scallops. Garnish each serving with a sprinkle of parsley and with an orange wedge. Squeeze the orange wedge over the scallops before eating. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Spanish pimenton is available in gourmet food stores and in some groceries. If using pimenton agridulce (medium hot), omit the cayenne and black pepper. I used a brand called El Rey de la Vera with great results. If you can’t find smoked paprika in a local store, you can order it online by visiting www.tienda.com or www.penzeys.com.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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