Variety, balance. Colors, textures, flavors. Seasonality, locality, sustainability. This meal had it all, simply by layering. Each component was prepared individually and then layered with the others to produce a simple and yet complex dish that was fresh, clean and flavorful.
Even without going “down the shore” (Jersey parlance), we can purchase fine local seafood caught by day boat fisherman using Barnegat Light as their port. It’s limited during dark days of course, but when available it can be amazingly flavorful. Scallops are almost always available since they are fished commercially, but we can also get skate, bluefish, tuna and sometimes even swordfish. I get concerned about the sustainability of the ocean’s yield, so we tend to limit ourselves to the varieties that are not typically overfished.
Mushrooms abound here, coming from Eastern Pennsylvania every few weeks at farmers’ markets during the winter and at our local organic produce store. I stockpiled local organic leeks and sweet potatoes in the late fall and have been looking for good opportunities to use them, as they are both fragile commodities that won’t last the winter.
The leeks were cleaned after being sliced vertically (helps find the sand) and cooked slowly in a covered pan with a little salt. Oil or butter can be added but are not necessary.
The mushrooms – in this case a combination of shitakes and oyster mushrooms – were placed in a hot pan to which I added a few drabs of olive oil. After the mushrooms started to brown, I turned down the heat so they would exude their juices. I added minced shallot and garlic, a little salt and a sprinkling of winter savory (thyme would also work).
The sweet potato was peeled, thinly sliced, tossed in olive oil, salted, and roasted at 400 degrees, turning once, until browned and slightly crisp (6-10 minutes). I removed it to paper toweling to drain for a minute or two and then to a plate to let crisp.
The scallops were cooked in a semi-hot grill pan brushed with oil until browned on one side, flipped, and finished with a teaspoonful or so of local organic port from the Hopewell Valley Winery.
To assemble, I placed the sweet potato crisps on a plate, spooned on a mixture of the leeks and mushrooms, then the scallops. I topped them with a small spoonful of mushrooms and leeks, and garnished with fresh parsley (nearly the last from my own garden). Once again, the use of fresh local ingredients cooked simply produced a tasty and nutritious meal. Bravo Dark Days.