I think it’s important for people to start eating local, sustainable food, but I think it’s just as important that we return to a mindframe that values rarity. We oughtn’t to have everything we want, all the time – artichokes in March, strawberries in December. Fiddleheads and wild onions are coveted because they are rare, uncultivated and therefore uncertain. Asparagus, that herald of spring, is delicious because its season is so brief, and its crisp sweetness so ephemeral. Clementines are Christmas treasures because they are rare, exotic imports. If we had them every day, they wouldn’t taste nearly so good.
“I’m not very scientific,” Tony Kushner says in his play, Bright Room Called Day. “I really believed once that oranges prevented colds because they stored up hot sunlight in the tropical places they grow and the heat gets released when you eat one.” That pretty much sums up how I feel about those gleaming clementine crates when I’m battling winter blues.
Most people who’ve eaten a meal with me know that I’m a sucker for wacky, sweet-savory flavor combinations – whether it’s fruit in sushi, lavender pesto, or rhubarb over pork chops, I’m always craving crazy combos. Now, the Greenmarket never ceases to amaze me with its impressive variety of December produce. Hardy apples, squashes and onions aside – with greenhouse technology offering chard and bok choi and even the occasional lettuce, local winter eating has lost its cellar stigma. That said, this time of year, when fruit is scarce and I’ve eaten about as much kale and potatoes as I think I can handle, my local-only ambitions usually cave and I buy one of those decadent Christmas crates of clementines. Merry, tart, irresistible clementine, how I adore thee!
This light, zesty dish offsets typically heavy winter fare, and creates complex flavors from a simple preparation. You can use local sea scallops, available year round from Blue Moon Fish at various NYC Greenmarket locations, as well as local leeks, an oniony winter staple.
Orange-Anise Scallops and Melted Leeks
(Adapted from Bon Appétit, January 1999)
1 cup fresh-squeezed clementine juice
4 whole star anise
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon plus 4 teaspoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon 1/2 x 1/8-inch clementine zest strips
4 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), rinsed, halved, and cut crosswise into 1/3-inch pieces
16 sea scallops
Pat scallops dry and lightly salt.
Simmer clementine juice and star anise in saucepan for seven minutes or until juice is reduced by one-third. Remove star anise and reserve; whisk honey and cornstarch into juice and simmer one minute. Remove from heat.
Pat scallops dry and lightly salt. Heat two teaspoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallops; sauté until opaque in center, turning once, 2 ½ -3 minutes.
Heat 1 tablespoon plus two teaspoons oil in a separate skillet over medium-high heat. Add orange peel strips to skillet and sauté 1 minute. Add leeks; sauté until tender, about 6 minutes. Add juice mixture; boil until sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Arrange 4 scallops on each plate; spoon leeks around scallops and drizzle sauce over. Garnish with reserved star anise. Enjoy!
Serves 4 appetizer portions.