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Dinner at John’s (the Winter Edition)

The days were just starting to get shorter,and the weather colder. I broke out my scarf, my gloves, and that is when it hit me. Maybe it was school, or work, whatever it was, I needed a break from the City. Going out to Shelter Island for the weekend is always proves to be a great escape, especially when you have a dinner party with a great group of friends planned.

I visit the Union Square farmer’s market weekly, and other outdoor markets like the New Amsterdam Market have a great selection of produce and other food items even during the colder months, which is also true for the farm stands on the East End. I didn’t get a chance to go while I was visiting, but the Sag Harbor Farmer’s Market has moved indoors for the winter and runs on Saturdays at 34 Bay St. from 9am – 1pm as well. I took a Jitney in the afternoon and missed the market, but had access to another great local food that is in season… bay scallops! While my family usually purchases scallops from our neighbor who is a commercial fisherman, we went to Commander Cody’s on Shelter Island to pick up a couple of pounds for dinner.

Bay Scallops, Parsley Coulis, Fennel and Orange Slaw

Since I had already promised John I’d make Sweet Potato Gnocci for the meal, I thought the scallops would stand out better on their own as a first course. Scallops, especially fresh bay scallops, have a sweet and delicate flavor that can easily get lost among a starch, or a strong sauce. I like to serve them seared, without any batter or coating. I bring oil up to a med-high temperature in saute pan, and allow the scallops to develop a golden “crust” on both sides, and finish them with some butter, salt and pepper, off the heat. They cook extremely quickly, and it is important not to leave them over the flame for more than a few minutes at most, as they can become very chewy. I served them over a parsley coulis which added just a little zest without concealing the flavor of the scallops. See a quick recipe for the coulis at bottom of post.

Vanessa brought a really beautiful salad featuring some really spicy young arugala her mother grew. Borrowing a recipe from my favorite, Ina Garten, she added roasted butternut squash, roasted pecans, and a warm shallot-apple cider vinagrette. Instead of dried cranberries she tossed in some pomegrante seeds, which were tart, sweet, and a nice seasonal touch.

Sweet Potato Gnocci

The Sweet Potato Gnocci were a little intimidating, but I chose to use a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis that featured ricotta cheese as an ingredient, as I recalled a Mark Bittman article earlier in the month stating the light fluffy texture of gnocci made just with the cheese. The dough was a bit difficult to work with, which made for some interesting looking gnocci– but they tasted really great, and that’s all that really matters, right?

Instead of Giada’s sweet sauce, I did a brown butter sauce with a little fried sage, pancetta, and because it was a dinner party at John’s, we had to incorporate some gently sautéed oyster mushrooms. Connor did a wonderful job of finishing the plate with just a little freshly grated parmesan cheese, a component which really tied all the flavors together. While extremely rich, this dish was excellent. The gnocci had a nice soft texture, and the sauce had really wonderful warming flavors that were so enjoyed on a cold winter night (the red wines John picked for the evening didn’t hurt either).

While we couldn’t sit out back on the porch and drink lovely pink gin cocktails, and look out at the water front– we stayed cozy inside and were full, happy, and warm. Winter is a great time for food, and so many ingredients are still in season to create hearty, and memorable meals.

Parsley Coulis:

Ingredients:
2 T oil
2 shallots (minced)
1 oz mushrooms (chopped finely)
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1 bunch parsley, stemmed
S & P
Lemon Juice

-Bring water to a boil in small sauce pot, add parsley for a few seconds, drain, and quickly place in ice bath. Drain on paper towels, squeeze out all excess moisture. (This step helps parsley retain vibrant color for finished sauce).

-Sweat the shallots and mushrooms in a pan with 2 T oil, without achieving color. Add 1/2 cup stock, cook until mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat.

-Pour contents in food processor or blender, puree about a minute. Add parsley. Pour contents back into pan, season to taste. Keep warm for service.

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