Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pick of the Week: Shallots

I owe my love of shallots to Perla Meyers, the first cookbook author I ever interviewed. I was a young bride, an insecure albeit adventurous cook, and a journalist for just a few years. I was smitten with Perla, a no-nonsense European woman, who was hyping her "Peasant Kitchen" cookbook. She was so secure in her abilities to teach Americans what cooking was all about, and I was her sponge, soaking up all the cooking advice she was willing to share. Just as Julie Powell whipped up 524 of Julia Child's recipes in a year, I cooked my way through all of Perla's cookbooks. Perla has never gained the acclaim of Julia, but for me, she is just as special.

I met Perla many times after that first meeting, and wrote about her each time she published another cookbook. I would often attend her fabulous cooking classes in her Litchfield County, Connecticut, county home because to me, Perla knew everything there was to know about cooking. Her technique was impeccable, her knowledge unrivaled, and it was from her that I learned two very important facts:
1. Philadelphia cream cheese has so many chemicals in it, it can stay out of the fridge for hours.
2. A good kitchen is never without shallots.

So today, I'm thinking of Perla and how dull life would have been if I never discovered shallots. This petite member of the onion family has cloves like garlic, but that's where the similarity ends. Shallots are the mild, delicate children you want to keep around as much as possible.

Choose shallots that are not sprouting, wrinkled or moldy.

Store unwrapped, in a cool, dry place for up to a month.

Today's recipe is from Perla's "Peasant Kitchen," and one I used to make all the time. I'm glad I started to think about Perla and shallots today, because soon, (OK after Kara's wedding!) I will make her version of the classic Coquilles St. Jacques. She writes in the cookbook that this recipe is "an excellent if rather expensive appetizer for last-minute entertainment. It is quickly prepared, and the result is both elegant and delicious." I couldn't agree more. And except for the butter, it is really quite healthy!

3 large shallots, finely minced
3/4 cup dry white wine
10 Tblsp. softened butter
2 Tblsp. finely minced tarragon
1 Tblsp. finely minced fresh chervil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
36 to 42 bay scallops
1/2 cup softened bread crumbs
1 Tblsp. minced fresh parsley
1 tsp. finely minced garlic
  • Combine the shallots and wine in a small, heavy saucepan. Cook the mixture over high heat until it is reduced to 2 tablespoons, then remove from the heat.
  • In a bowl, combine 7 tablespoons of the butter with a little of the shallot mixture. Add the tarragon, chervil, salt and pepper and blend well.
  • Rub the inside of 6 scallop shells or dishes with the tarragon butter. Top with 6 to 7 scallops, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and top with the remaining shallot mixture. Set aside.
  • Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a small skillet. Add the bread crumbs, parsley and garlic and cook the mixture for 1 minute, stirring until it is well blended.
  • Preheat the broiler
  • Set the scallop shells under the broiler about 5 to 6 inches from the heat source, and broil for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the scallops with a little of the bread crumb mixture, then return them to the oven for another 2 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are lightly browned.
  • Serve the scallops immediately with French bread and a well chilled dry white wine. Serves 6.

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