White Beans With Sea Scallops and Spinach

A reader emailed asking for the recipe for a dish that Dixie Hemingway’s brother, Michael, makes on page 118 of Cat Sitter on a Hot Tin Roof. I had to go look in the book to see what the dish was, and it’s a recipe for white beans with sea scallops and spinach. It is yummy, and just in case other readers have wanted to try it, here ’tis.

White Beans with Sea Scallops and Spinach

The Bean Part:

Michael’s way:

Pick over 2 cups dry white beans to remove rocks or other foreign stuff
Cover with a lot of water, 3 inches or so above the beans
Bring to a fast boil, boil for 2 minutes, turn heat off
Cover and let sit for 1 hour
Drain, cover just about an inch with water

Add:
1 minced clove garlic
1 T dried minced onion
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. sage
1 tsp. sea salt (or more to taste)

Cover, bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 2 hours or until tender. Keep warm.

A quicker way:

Open 2 cans of white northern beans
Add 1/2 c. water and the same garlic, onion, spices as above
Simmer for 15 or 20 minutes, adding water if it gets too dry. Keep warm.

The Spinach Part
Open a bag of baby spinach leaves. Snip off as many stem ends as you have patience for. Rinse the leaves, leave them dripping wet.

In a snug pan, heat 1 T olive oil, swirl 1 minced clove garlic around to soften but not brown. Dump in wet spinach leaves, clap a lid on the pan, lower the heat to medium. In a minute or 2, stir the leaves, recover, cook just until leaves have wilted and are still bright green. Turn off heat, keep warm.

The Sea Scallops Part

Make sure the sea scallops you buy are fresh and real, not cut up white fish.
Drain them, pat them lightly with paper towels.
Dust them with paprika.
In a heavy skillet, melt a generous pat of butter till it bubbles
Saute scallops on all sides, about a minute per side, for no more than 2 or 3 minutes, depending on size of scallops. Don’t overcook!

Serving

On warm plates, layer a large spoonful of white beans over a bed of spinach, top with sauteed sea scallops. Garnish with chopped red tomatoes.

Serve with hot French Bread. A nice glass of wine, either red or white. Yum!

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New Year’s Eve Supper

New Year’s Eve parties, especially the big ones, used to make me feel as if I’d blundered onto a Hollywood film set where everybody but me had been given a script to follow. There was always a coyly tipsy woman, a red-nosed guy playing the role of a drunken jerk, and a bunch of romantics mooning into their partners’ eyes waiting for the ball to drop so they could passionately kiss while the band played “Auld Lang Syne.” And then there was me, wishing I had stayed home.

I don’t torture myself with those big blow-outs any more. I’d rather sit in front of a fire, either alone or with someone special, and contemplate what I’ve learned over the past year. A little wine, a little laughter, some nice jazz playing in the background, and I don’t need anything else to feel that it’s a special evening. Well, that’s not totally true. I do like to have a special New Year’s Eve supper. Nothing elaborate, nothing to get tense about, but something a little bit extra-nice. If you feel that way too, and would like to try a new recipe, here’s my favorite New Year’s Eve dish.

Gorgonzola Shells and Pears

1 lb. shell pasta
2/3 cup toasted chopped walnuts
3 cup heavy cream
3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
3 large red pears, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
2/3 lb. gorgonzola cheese, cubed
1-1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or 1/4 tsp. dried)

The trick to making this exceptional is to use really good gorgonzola. Not the awful stuff in the supermarket cheese section, but the kind cut to order from a big wheel in an  authentic Italian market. Trust me, it makes all the difference in the world.

In a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the cream, garlic, and pepper flakes to a boil over high heat. Boil for seven minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium, and cook another ten or fifteen minutes to thicken. It should coat the back of a spoon. When the sauce is thick, gently fold in the pears and gorgonzola. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cook the shells al dente, drain, and put in very large bowl. Put the gorgonzola cream mixture back on high heat and stir until cheese melts and the sauce is thick and bubbly. Add to the shells along with the toasted nuts, thyme, and rosemary.

Taste, add salt and pepper if you wish, and serve to four people. Or two with leftovers to freeze and heat up on some cold night when you feel like indulging yourself.

Happy New Year!!!!

Happy Thanksgiving

Are you hysterical yet? Did you just realize you’ve invited thirteen people to Thanksgiving dinner and you only have eight chairs, and that’s only if you count your desk chair and a chair from the porch? Have you gone menu-browsing one time too many  for a creative dish to take as your contribution to somebody else’s dinner and bought ingredients for more casseroles than you have the time or energy to make? Like, say, a fresh butternut squash and a bag of frozen butternut squash, or fresh pearl onions and a package of frozen pearl onions, all of which are in my kitchen as we speak. That’s in addition to the two pounds of boiling onions that are at this minute caramelizing in the crock pot, and the package of frozen baby limas called for in some recipe I scanned and now have forgotten, and the package of frozen cauliflower that I bought during a mad moment at the supermarket when I got visions of mixing cauliflower with pearl onions and smothering them in a cream sauce. What was I thinking?

I’m only going to be a guest at a friend’s table, and in addition to haunting cooking sites on the internet, I’ve hauled out all my recipe files, Julia Child, James Beard, and an old party cookbook from Gourmet. It isn’t because my hostess friend is the author of an upcoming cookbook, I’d be this nutty even if she weren’t a great cook. It’s my over-thinking syndrome. If there’s a way to make a simple project complicated, I’ll find it. Some of the other guests will be vegetarian, so does that mean they can’t eat my caramelized onions if I use chicken broth in the cream sauce? I don’t have any vegetable broth, so what if I just don’t tell them? Would that be unethical, dishonest? Some of the guests don’t drink alcohol, so should I tell them the sauce also has a bit of wine in it? Could I inadvertently cause somebody who’s been sober for decades to fall off the wagon because there’s a fourth cup of vermouth in my cream sauce?

In my occasional moments of rationality, I tell myself to chill out, that the alcohol will cook out of the vermouth, that the vegetarians are grown ups who know how to navigate a dinner table. Thankfully, those moments are coming more often, and I’m beginning to simply look forward to being with friends and eating good food. I’ll make the cream sauce with a little chicken broth, a little wine, some heavy cream and sharp cheddar, and that’s that. And Wednesday night I’ll throw that package of butternut squash in the crock pot with some orange juice and let it cook all night. Thursday morning, I will calmly and leisurely add some maple syrup, nutmeg, and butter, and spoon it into a pyrex dish that can be reheated in my friend’s microwave. But I’ll save the fresh squash, the frozen onions, the froze limas, and frozen cauliflower for another time.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

What Are You Doing For Thanksgiving?

What are you doing for Thanksgiving? That’s the question everybody starts asking around this time. We all have images of the “perfect” Thanksgiving dinner in our heads. You know, the traditional one with everybody in the family gathered around a bountiful table, with grandpa at the head carving the turkey. Some of us will duplicate that image, some of us will join friends at a church hall or a restaurant or a community center. No matter where we eat it or whom we eat it with, Thanksgiving dinners always seem special.

The first Thanksgiving I spent without a large family around me was when I was in graduate school, newly divorced, and living with my small son in a dinky apartment with a kitchen the size of a phone booth. I couldn’t stand the thought of how dismal the day would be without some other people around, so I called the university and asked the dean of student affairs to choose some students who were far from home and send them to me. Four people showed up, a young woman and three guys, all of them tentative and wary. I put them to work peeling potatoes and snapping green beans and figuring out how to get all of us seated at my teeny dining table. In no time, the guys were on the floor playing cars with my little boy and the girl and I were standing in clouds of steam and yakking as if we were  family. It was a great meal, they took leftovers back to their dorms, and my little boy and I had a happy Thanksgiving.

Several years later, when our housing situation had improved a lot, Bob and Cloy Shannon, my across-the-street neighbors, invited us every year to Thanksgiving dinner at their ranch outside Houston. No house, just a flat ranch with a few bobbing oil-pumps and a one-room mobile home for bathroom breaks and washing kids’ sticky hands. About a hundred people would turn up with insulated hampers holding turkeys and casseroles and desserts, and the whole thing got laid out on planks laid across bales of hay. Fires would be burning, some for warmth because it was danged cold out there, and some for grilling venison or boiling pots of gumbo. Pink-cheeked children ran around in gleeful freedom, and there was always a tractor-pulled hayride. We ate on paper plates, there wasn’t a thing traditional about any of it, and it was terrific.

I’ve shared a lot of other family’s Thanksgivings, every one with a different tradition, and enjoyed them all. This year I’ve been invited to share Thanksgiving dinner with a friend’s family. I think we’ll be around fourteen people, in all. My contribution will be roasted creamed onions and whole cranberry sauce flavored with a clove-studded tangerine and cinnamon sticks. The cranberry sauce is something I have to have every Thanksgiving, no matter what. Other people think of cranberry sauce as just a little dollop next to the turkey, but to me it’s the main event. I just eat the other stuff so I can have cranberry sauce. As for the creamed onions, they’re something I’ve never made before. I don’t even particularly like creamed onions, but I saw this recipe online and the woman who posted it claims that roasting the onions and putting a little wine in the sauce transports them to something out of the ordinary. We’ll see. If they bomb, there’ll be plenty of other good things. The main thing is that about a dozen nice people will gather around a Thanksgiving table and create a memory.

I hope your Thanksgiving dinner is enjoyable in every way.

In Defense of Dull Knives

All my life, I’ve heard people say that a dull knife will cut you worse than a sharp knife. I know that isn’t true because I’ve always had dull knives and none of them has ever cut me. My favorite dull knife has been with me since my first marriage. At that time, knife sharpeners came around every few months in trucks that played jingling tunes to alert women to bring out their dull knives. Too bad there weren’t marriage-sharpeners — but I digress. The point is that my trusty old knife has been professionally sharpened only once or twice in its lifetime, and that was a long time ago.

It’s a good knife, with a one-piece length of steel that runs all the way through a wooden handle with brass studs. About ten inches long, I’ve used it for almost everything. It has cut through chicken bones, whacked garlic cloves, chopped onions, sliced carrots, you name it. In the last year, the handle has gotten a little loose, so I quit putting it in the dishwasher. I also started looking for a replacement, and found that I had a knife that chefs consider a treasure. I guess that’s why it has lasted so long and why no other knife has ever felt right in my hand.

Last week I plunked down an obscene amount of money for a knife that was as close to my old one as I could find. I have to admit it’s a lot sharper. Tomatoes take one look at it and practically fall into neat slices before they’re touched. Celery has never sounded so crisp when the blade goes through it. It is one sharp dude.

The old knife is still my first love, but I don’t want to completely destroy its wooden handle so it stays most of the time in its slot in the knife rack on the kitchen counter. So far, I have band-aids on three fingers. They keep slipping off and the cuts start bleeding again so now I’m carrying spare band-aids in my pockets. I suppose in time I’ll remember that the new knife blade is really, really sharp and stop cutting myself, but I may be wearing band-aids on every finger before I do. I’ll be glad when it loses a little of its sharp edge.

I read somewhere that Mikimoto, the cultured pearl king, once held a requiem for the needles that had been broken stringing his pearls. I understand that. I feel the same affection and gratitude for my old dull knife.

National Resentment Day

With all the grim financial news, a lot of people seem to have given in to rampant paranoia and rabid resentment. Some of them have good reason to be angry, and some just seem to enjoy ranting. In either case, listening to their grievances reminds me of a therapeutic assignment I used to give clients who were trapped in fear and anger and grief. They were to set aside an hour a day for resentment. The rest of the time, they tried to be as productive and creative and positive as they could. If fear or shame or rage crept into their minds, they pushed it out until its assigned hour. When the hour came, they ran a hot bath and cried in it, or stood naked in front of a full length mirror and grieved their scars and stretch marks, or howled at all the ways they’d been betrayed. Most people found that an hour became too long and boring, or they ended up laughing at their own extremism, but the resentment hour was theirs to use any way they chose.

I propose a national Resentment Day. Instead of letting our resentments suck our strength on a daily basis, we could save them for one day a year. We could observe Resentment Day the way we observe our other national holidays. Families and friends would get together over a big meal and take turns voicing all their resentments. Nobody would be allowed to tell anybody else to just suck it up, either, they would all have to listen and be respectful. The meals would feature foods that were sour or bitter. If wines were served, they’d have to be some that had turned vinegary. Bitter green salads would probably be popular, and green persimmon pie served with chicory coffee might become a traditional Resentment Day dessert. For the rest of the year, we’d concentrate on being productive and creative and positive. And if a group observing Resentment Day ended up laughing at how they were all trying to top one another’s stories, nobody would think the observation had been in vain. I’m not sure what the date might be. Anybody have an idea?

Pimiento Cheese Redux

Remember pimiento cheese? I’ll bet I ate a ton of the stuff when I was young. But then my taste got a little more sophisticated, not to mention that I started thinking about calories, and so pimiento cheese became a part of my gastronomical past. Lately, though, with all the doom and gloom in the air, I’ve been wanting the comfort food I used to eat. Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, pot roasts, that kind of thing.

Yesterday while I stood looking into my refrigerator hoping for inspiration, I noticed a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, the finely minced kind that I usually stir into hot pasta. Right beside it was a plastic bag of grated cheddar cheese. A little bell rang in my head. Why not combine them, add a little mayo, a smidgen of Dijon mustard, and call it tomato-cheese? So I did, and spread it on stone-ground wheat crackers for a snack. It wasn’t bad. Not as soul-satisfying as the old gloppy pimiento cheese on gummy Wonder Bread used to be, but not half bad. I think next time I’ll put it on top of grilled burgers.