About a year ago my book club decided to change its monthly meetings from Sunday afternoons to Thursday evenings. With the change came the suggestion that the usual appetizers and sweets that each host served be replaced with a soup and salad supper. I don’t know whether it was the new time or the menu, but ever since we switched to the current format, attendance has soared!
September is my month to host, and last night I welcomed everyone to my home. Since our book selection was Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz, I planned a menu that I thought would be worthy of this culinary icon.
For openers I arranged French goat cheeses on a wicker tray along with fresh figs. The soupe du jour was a hearty New England scallop and corn chowder garnished with fresh chives from my book Sunday Soup. A salad of heirloom tomatoes and arugula tossed in a sherry vinaigrette was a colorful accompaniment while individual crème brûlées topped with almond and pistachio brittle made a sweet ending.
Eleven of our thirteen members showed up–a record attendance. We had a lively discussion; some loved the book while others thought it was tediously long. However, everyone savored the early fall chowder that anchored the meal. It was a good choice and one that Julia, I hope, would have approved!
Scallop and Corn Chowder
For this soup fresh corn is paired with sea scallops dusted with smoked paprika, cumin, and pepper. Other chowder mainstays–potatoes, bacon, and onion–also contribute to the delectable taste and enticing texture.
1 pound large red skin potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 cups fresh or frozen corn, divided
2 cups chicken stock, divided
8 thick smoked bacon slices, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup chopped onion Vegetable or olive oil for cooking the scallops
1 1/3 cups Half-and-Half
1 pound large sea scallops, side muscles removed
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika (see note)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1. Bring a medium pot of water set over high heat to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender, but not mushy, when pierced with a knife, for about 10 minutes. Strain and set aside.
2. Puree 2 cups of the corn with 1 cup of the chicken stock in a food processor or blender and set aside.
3. In a large, heavy pot set over medium heat, sauté the bacon until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings in pot. Add onions and remaining 2 cups of corn. Sauté, stirring, until onions are softened and corn starts to brown lightly, for 5 to 6 minutes. (If using frozen corn, saute an extra 2 to 3 minutes to bring out its sweetness.)
4. Stir in the remaining 1 cup chicken stock and the pureed corn mixture. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add potatoes, bacon, and Half and Half and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. Be careful not to let the soup come to a boil once the Half-and-Half has been added. Salt to taste. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead to this point; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over low heat.) Remove pot from the heat and cover to keep warm while you prepare the scallops.
5. Pat scallops dry, then quarter them. Mix smoked paprika, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne in a small bowl, then spread mixture on a dinner plate. Coat scallops on all sides with the spice mixture.
6. Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a large, heavy skillet set over medium high heat. When hot, add enough scallops to fit comfortably in the pan and sauté 1 to 2 minutes per side until just seared. Remove and continue until all scallops are sautéed. Season with salt.
7. Ladle the chowder into 6 soup bowls, then divide the scallops evenly among the bowls. Garnish each serving with chopped chives. Serves 6.
Note: Spanish smoked paprika, called pimenton, is available in gourmet food stores and in some groceries. There is sweet (dulce), medium-hot (agridulce), and hot, (picante). For this recipe I used the sweet (dulce). You can also order it on line from Penzey’s at www.penzeys.com.
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