Mara Martin is one of the most precious friends Marcella Hazan has gained through cooking. When she and her husband, Maurizio, were teenagers, they borrowed money to buy Da Fiore, an old wine bar in Venice, and proceeded to transform it into one of Italy's most popular seafood restaurants. They had no professional experience but they had taste, cooking's principal root from which all other qualities germinate.
Mara's dishes are rigorously based on the superb local seafood and the preparations are by and large those the understated, light-handed Venetian tradition. She doesn't shrink from updating them, however, when she finds a promising new union of ingredients, as in this combination of local scallops and broccoli from the south of Italy.
Mara has a generous hand with butter, which may distress those who think olive oil is the only cooking medium for Italian seafood. But it is butter that does what needs to be done here, tenderly reconciling the reticent mildness of the thin scallop slices with the sourish, vegetal quality of the broccoli. It is impossible to imagine a seafood sauce with a blend of flavors more smooth or ravishing. Hazan had the pleasure of watching Mara make this dish with Long Island bay scallops in her Watermill kitchen in the Hamptons when she and Maurizio came to visit her one summer. That's when Hazan discovered that Mara had forgetfully omitted in the recipe she had written out for her: thyme. Ah, those great Italian cooks—never question their taste, just take a second look at their recipes.
Fast Weekday Pastas
1 pound broccoli
1/2 pound scallops, preferably bay
1 stick (4 ounces) butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 pound pennini or maccheroncini
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1/8 teaspoon finely chopped fresh chile, or more to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
How to Make It
Peel the broccoli stems, removing all the tough, dark green skin and any stringy parts. Separate and wash the florets and stems.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of coarse salt. Add the thick broccoli stems and cook for 7 minutes, then add the florets. When the water returns to a boil, cook for 12 minutes longer. Drain well.
Wash and drain the scallops. Trim off the small beige filament from the side of each one. Slice the scallops crosswise into thin rounds; pat dry.
Separate the larger broccoli florets into smaller ones and slice all of the stems into thin rounds.
Put 6 tablespoons of the butter and the onion in a large skillet. Turn the heat to moderately high and cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened but not browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add all the broccoli and stir gently to coat. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally; set aside.
Fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of coarse salt, cover and return to a boil. Add the pasta and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon. Cover and bring back to a boil, then uncover and cook the pasta, stirring frequently, until it is al dente.
Meanwhile, add the sliced scallops, thyme and chile to the broccoli and season with salt. Cook briefly until the scallops turn white, 2 to 3 minutes. remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.
When the pasta is nearly done, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter of the scallops and broccoli. return the pan to moderate heat and stir gently. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet. Toss thoroughly for no more than 20 seconds, then transfer the pasta to a warm bowl and serve at once.
The broccoli can be boiled and drained a few hours in advance, but do not refrigerate it.
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