Monday, June 28, 2010

15 Minute Bay Scallop Alfredo

Cooking during the summer in this house can be a chore.  It's a darling house that I love dearly, but having been built in the 1800's and gone through several owners, the quality of the various upgrades/changes varies.  The kitchen, for example, was a later addition done on the cheap--they literally plugged an 11'x10' box onto the back of the second story with no insulation and minimal underside supports.  Therefore, besides having to shore up the room before I moved in (nothing like having to ask the question "well, is it going to fall off?") my kitchen, being the outside wall on four of six sides, is pretty much the same temperature as outside.  During the winter I just make a lot of breads, stews, and other long-cooking items to keep the room toasty, but in the summer anything which adds heat to the room makes the entire floor unbearable.
Not being a takeout kind of girl (it's fine once in awhile, but all summer? Expensive and unhealthy!) instead I've made it my mission this summer to come up with recipes that minimize my time in the kitchen and don't use the oven.  Yeah, I know, there are millions of 30-minute cookbooks out there but really--isn't that aiming too low?  Dinner is totally possible in 15 minutes which I proved last night with my 15 Minute Bay Scallop Alfredo. (recipe after the break)
Ingredients (serves 2):
  • 2 tbl butter
  • 1 tbl flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1.5 cups milk (I use 2%, but whatever is in the fridge will do)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Dash of cayenne
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese 
  • 1 tbl butter
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 cup bay scallops
  • 2 cups rough-chopped vegetables
  • 1 lemon
Plus: 2 servings cooked pasta of your choice

To start off, cook pasta according to package directions (I used penne but it's purely a personal preference--feel free to use fettuccine or whatever it is you like best ).  While the pasta is cooking make the sauce and topping--each of which will take under 10 minutes.

For the sauce, add the butter, flour, sugar, cayenne, and salt to a small saucepan over med-high heat.  Stir until the butter is melted and the flour is incorporated.  You can see my pasta merrily boiling away as the butter melts.

Then slowly whisk in the milk making sure to completely mix it into the flour mixture before adding more otherwise the sauce will be lumpy.  Bring to a boil and simmer 1-2 minutes until thickened slightly, remove from heat, stir in the cheese, then season with black pepper to taste.

Now, my version isn't a "true" alfredo sauce which would use more butter and heavy cream.  Examples include this one from the Olive Garden (OMG, egg yolks too?) and this one from Tyler Florence at Food Network.  Although for special occasions I will use heavy cream in my alfredo, for everyday cooking that's just ridiculously unhealthy.  Using sugar and flour adds the sweetness and thickness you would expect from heavy cream, minus the fat and cholesterol.  This sauce is really flexible and for variation try using 1/2 Parmesan and 1/2 Romano cheeses, or adding in a 1/4 tsp of fresh garlic.  I've even seen variations using cream cheese but honestly, haven't tried that one yet.

Now that the sauce (or your variation of it) is done or, if you're a multi-tasker at the same time, make the topping.  In a small fry pan over medium-high heat add the garlic, butter, the juice from half a lemon and scallops.  Saute for 2-3 minutes.  You will notice that all sorts of juices are in the pan--but don't worry, that'll change in a minute.

While the scallops are cooking, roughly chop two cups of vegetables--just enough to make them smallish bite-sized.  I used a bagged broccoli/cauliflower/carrot mix but again--whatever vegetables you like will do.
Add the veggies to the pan with the scallops and saute another 3-4 minutes until the scallops are opaque and vegetables crisp-tender.  Notice that the veggies have soaked up all those lovely scallop and lemon flavored juices.  Mmmmmmm.

A couple of notes.  First--I used frozen bay scallops because they are super-cheap ($9.99 for that entire bag!), can just hang out in my freezer until I'm ready to use them, cook quickly and can be used in almost anything (chowders, stir fries, cold salads, etc.).
As for the vegetables, when I'm trying to stay out of my kitchen I shamelessly use pre-washed, packaged (but fresh) vegetables because they're super-convenient and not having to trim them myself cuts the prep time to practically nothing (I do rinse them before using, but that's just me being OCD).

Time for assembly: toss the pasta in the alfredo sauce, add to plate, then top with the scallop/vegetable mix and serve.  I personally like to squeeze a little extra fresh lemon over the top to enhance the mix of tart and creamy/cheesy.  My daughter, however, prefers to top hers with an extra sprinkling of parmesan.

And there you have it--dinner in fifteen minutes.  Phew!

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