Love Italy is a fantastic cook book by Guy Grossi. The chapters are sorted into regions and I am very much enjoying working through them, picking out the most beautiful and simple dishes to try. This week I am stuck on the Veneto region, maybe because I am half Veneta and because there are several dishes featuring seafood, which have photos taken in Venezia. I never tire of this beautiful town, its medieval market, its tiny canals and its magic. It is where Mark proposed to me. And where my mamma and papa’ went for their honeymoon – I love thinking about them there in the late summer of 1948, maybe eating seafood in one of the many restaurants and walking over the thousands of tiny bridges. I took the photo of the Grand Canal below as the autumn sun was setting, giving it that gorgeous golden glow. There are so many reasons to love La Serenissima (“the serene one”), as Venezia is often called.
Guy’s recipe is accompanied by a paragraph about the glorious Rialto Market and its fresh seafood. This is one of my favorite markets in the world – I have written about it several times (here and here). However, I can’t get my seafood from the Rialto very often, so the local Victoria Market generally does very nicely. On the weekend I bought some beautiful fresh Queensland scallops from there to make a mouth-watering warm salad I saw in Love Italy. I avoid buying frozen scallops if I can, particularly the ones from overseas. The flesh should look firm, lustrous, slightly translucent and sticky, indicating that they are fresh and have not been frozen. They are so quick to cook, taste sweet and are tender.
Rather than using dried cannellini beans and soaking them as the recipe required, I decided to make it simpler and quicker by using tinned beans. I buy the organic italian ones that aren’t overly salted. It is important that they aren’t too soft – they should still retain their shape when you warm them through with the tomato. This dish is lovely, light and delicious. It takes less than 15 minutes to prepare and makes an easy but impressive lunch or an entree for a special dinner. Serve with some bread on the side, to mop up the extra virgin olive oil left on the plate, a glass of Soave and imagine you are dining by a canal in Venezia, watching the glow of the sun on the walls of its palazzi.
Insalata di capesante e asparagi (Scallop and asparagus salad)
6 large asparagus spears (or 10 thin spears), trimmed
3 Roma tomatoes, seeds removed and cut into 1 cm squares
1 tin cannellini (white) beans, drained and washed (400g)
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
3 stalks thyme
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, chopped
olive oil for cooking
extra virgin olive oil for serving
Prepare the asparagus by steaming or cooking the spears in a covered ceramic container in the microwave for one to two minutes until cooked through but still firm. Plunge in icy water to stop the cooking process and then slice each spear lengthways with a sharp knife in two or three long slices (depending on size of spears). Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sized non-stick frypan on medium-high and add the garlic. Cook for a minute or so until it becomes fragrant then add the beans and the thyme stalks, heating for a couple of minutes. The beans need to be heated only and should retain their shape. Add the tomatoes and cook for a minute until they soften.Add the asparagus slices and toss through. Add salt and pepper to taste and arrange on serving plates.
Wipe the frypan clean and heat a dash of olive oil and turn the heat up high. Season the scallops with salt and pepper and sear them in the hot pan for about a minute on each size (they will lose their translucency in the centre when cooked) until browned, in batches if needed. Remove with a slotted spoon and divide evenly between the serving plates.
Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil and scatter with parsley.