- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

While my culinary assistant and I were getting ready to test recipes in my kitchen recently, she mentioned that friends were coming from England, and she wanted to plan a special menu for their first meal on this side of the Atlantic.

Although Mary mentioned several dishes as possibilities, she admitted that none seemed exciting. Then we prepared the first recipe of the day, and her face lit up. After one bite of the pan-seared scallops and asparagus tossed in a sherry vinaigrette, she decided that this simple first course would be perfect to start the evening with her guests.

To prepare it, we assembled a vinaigrette dressing with sherry vinegar (which pairs particularly well with seafood). Next we cut the asparagus into 2-inch lengths and blanched them, and then we halved sea scallops horizontally (which makes the scallops go farther and cook more quickly).

The scallops were sauteed until golden, and then the blanched spears were stirred in and cooked only until warm. Finally, these ingredients were tossed in the skillet with some of the dressing. The vivid green of this spring vegetable made a lovely contrast to the snowy white background of the seared fish.

The dressing can be prepared several hours ahead, the asparagus blanched, and the scallops sliced in advance. At serving time only a quick saute is necessary. My pal will follow this starter with an orange-glazed ham, a potato gratin, and fresh peas. You could also serve this dish as a main course for a lunch or light supper accompanied by warm crusty bread and a platter of cheeses and fresh fruit for dessert.

Pan-seared scallops and asparagus with sherry vinaigrette

Makes 4 servings.


1 1/2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper

3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

1/4 cup olive oil


1 1/2 pounds slim asparagus spears

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 extra-large sea scallops (about 1 ounce each, 10 to 12 ounces total)

Olive oil for sauteing

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

For dressing, whisk together vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard and shallots in a small nonreactive bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil until incorporated. (Dressing can be made 4 hours ahead; cover with plastic wrap and leave at cool room temperature. Whisk before using.)

Snap tough 2- to 3-inch bases from the asparagus and discard. Then cut spears on the diagonal into 2-inch lengths. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil; add asparagus and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook until asparagus are just tender, only about 3 minutes. Put them in a colander and place under cold running water until cool. Pat asparagus dry with a clean kitchen towel. (Asparagus can be cooked 5 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Remove and discard the tough connective tissue on the side of each scallop. Cut each scallop crosswise in half and pat dry.

Heat enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of a large, heavy skillet and place over medium-high heat. When oil is very hot, add scallops and saute until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Do not overcook or scallops will become tough. Add asparagus and cook and stir until asparagus are heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add half of the salad dressing to skillet and toss to coat ingredients lightly.

Divide salad evenly and mound on 4 salad plates; drizzle each portion with some of the remaining dressing and sprinkle with some parsley. Serve warm.

c Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Sunday Soup” (Chronicle Books).


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