Scallops supply substance of satisfying summer salad

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Although I love to entertain at lunch, I have few occasions to do so during most of the year. Summer, however, is an exception.

We live in a beautiful part of New England, midway between the Berkshires and Cape Cod and only a few hours from the Maine shore.

Once the vacation months arrive, friends traveling to these popular sights begin to phone, telling us that they will be passing through our small Massachusetts town and asking if we could meet them for lunch. Since my husband, a college professor, doesn't teach during the summer and my own schedule is less frenetic at that time, I often invite the callers to our house for a midday meal.

These summer lunches are never fancy and usually include only two courses: a substantial salad and a dessert prepared with seasonal fruit. What I like best about these simple meals is that I am more relaxed than usual, since not much cooking is involved.

I find myself lingering at the table with our guests, leisurely catching up on their latest news.

This year I've added a new creation to my main course salad repertoire. It was inspired by a salad of scallops, bacon, asparagus and mesclun that I had served as a starter at several spring dinners.

For the summer version I combined thinly sliced red onion and cucumbers, diced avocados, crumbled bits of chevre and little grape tomatoes with mixed greens. I then tossed this melange with a mustard vinaigrette dressing. The salad was mounded onto dinner plates and garnished with bits of crispy bacon and sauteed slices of sea scallop.

This colorful dish is a study in contrasts. The crunchy textures of the onions and cucumbers balance the silky smoothness of the avocados. The cheese and bacon add salty notes while the little grape tomatoes provide a hint of sweetness.

A basket of warm bread or rolls and a pitcher of iced tea make good partners for the salad. Wine glasses filled with sliced peaches, topped with blueberry sauce and whipped cream or bowls of fresh raspberries, and served with scoops of vanilla ice cream could follow the entree.

You don't have to serve this salad exclusively at lunch. It will also get rave reviews as the star of a light summer supper.

Summer Salad With Sea Scallops, Tomatoes, Bacon and Avocados

Serves 6

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Black pepper

2 / 3 cup olive oil

1 medium red onion

2 ripe avocados

2 cups grape tomatoes

1 medium cucumber

2 / 3 cup crumbled chevre (see note)

8 cups fresh mixed greens or romaine lettuce leaves torn into bite-size pieces

6 thick slices (7 to 8 ounces) bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

12 ounces fresh sea scallops, side muscles removed and scallops halved crosswise

Place vinegar, mustard, salt and several grindings of pepper in a small nonreactive bowl and whisk well to combine. Gradually whisk in olive oil. (Dressing can be made 1 day ahead if covered and refrigerated. Whisk well before using.)

Peel onion, halve lengthwise, then slice thinly. Place in a large salad bowl. Peel avocados, halve lengthwise, then remove and discard pits. Cut avocado halves into 1-inch dice and add to salad bowl. Halve tomatoes lengthwise and add to bowl. Peel cucumber, halve lengthwise, then slice thinly and add to bowl along with crumbled chevre and lettuce greens.

Toss ingredients with all but 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if needed.

Place a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat and when hot, add bacon and fry, turning, until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towels. Pour out and discard all but a thin coating of bacon drippings in the pan. Place over medium high heat and cook scallops, about 1 to 2 minutes per side or until cooked through and opaque. Salt and pepper scallops and remove to drain on paper towels.

Divide salad evenly and mound onto 6 dinner plates. Divide scallops and bacon evenly and sprinkle over salad on each plate. Then drizzle with remaining dressing. Serve immediately.

Note: Crumbled chevre is available already packaged in many supermarkets. If you can't find any buy a plain, slightly firm chevre and crumble it yourself. Crumbled feta can be substituted but it is usually more salty than chevre.

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