When word came last week that Keeping the Feast took second place in the online blog category at the Catholic Press Awards, I kicked back for a few minutes and savored the thought of spending the weekend blogging. There were no weekend assignments to cover. The Feast of St. Anthony of Padua was on the horizon and so was brother Pete’s birthday.
I thought it would be so wonderful to combine those two aspects of the weekend into one great occasion — some really fine food, a celebration with good friends at home in the little blue house accross from the lake — into the blogging session I’d promised earlier in the week. That session was happily derailed by the need for reportage on the announcement of a new Co-Adjutor Bishop of the Trenton Diocese, Bishop-elect David O’Connell.
As so often happens where covering the news is concerned, plans to spend Saturday blogging were derailed again. Instead of a peaceful day of recipe planning and writing, Saturday got lost in a world of pain, no, not my own pain: the pain of a family from Howell that would bury its beloved husband, son, father and brother far too young; the pain of too many law enforcement officers to count and scores of people who lined Route 9 around St. Veronica Church in Howell to pay the young man honor.
For several hours on Saturday, the world in and around St. Veronica’s moved at sad and stately pace as the Mass of Christian Burial for State Trooper Marc Castellano, 29, who died the Sunday before from injuries sustained when he was hit by a car on the shoulder of Route 195 in Howell, just five miles away, unfolded with the kind of precision seen only at military, state or police funerals.
About 2,500 troopers and officers from around the state and nation were there. The State Police said 1,850 or nearly two thirds of the 3,000 force – stood at attention along with troopers from as far away as California, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri and nearly every state on the Eastern Seaboard.
It was a hard news day, the kind you don’t often get when you work for a Catholic bi-weekly publication, the kind that sets the compass off kilter, that moves the heart and stirs the soul. Not the kind of day where you follow up the assignment with mundane activities like picking out a recipe for a birthday dinner.
That task waited til the next day, after a long, solitary walk around the lake and a longer sleep restored some sense of calm.
On Sunday morning, I took stock and considered that it was still Pete’s birthday and still the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua and that Mass at St. Mary of the Lake in Lakewood, followed by a good meal with good friends would be a good restorative.
I thought about the container in the refrigerator filled to the brim with plump sea scallops — the gift of very dear friend and colleague Mary Stadnyk who recognized the CPA award with my favorite shellfish. I love scallops mainly for the way they taste and the way they can be incorporated into wonderful recipes.
I also love them because their shells have been the quintessential pilgrim symbol for hundreds of years. To me, they are a perfect culinary gift from God.
It was necessary then, to do the very best I could to create a wonderful dish from the gift of this wonderful friend — to make of them something grand enough to set upon the table and share with family and friends in honor of that gift.
I plundered through old cookbooks for inspiration, turning as so often before to Pierre Franey’s treasure “Cuisine Rapide” and it wasn’t long before a recipe for something he called “Scallops Americaine” emerged to fill the bill.
With some adapting and the addition of my new most favorite pasta — perciatelli (aka buccatini) — it turned into a dish that soothed the stomach and set the stage for the kind of warm and familiar conversation among family and friends that helps to soothe the soul.
I should tell you that Mary was invited but the trip to Lakewood on a Sunday night on the week of the graduation issue resulted in her asking for a rain check.
Ingredients: 1 pound perciatelli, cooked according to package directions and drained; 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil; 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots; 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion; 2 buds crushed garlic; 1/2 cup sparkling wine (or white wine of your choice) ; 1/4 coarsely chopped tarragon; 1/2 cup bottled clam juice; 2 cups crushed, canned tomatoes; pinch cayenne pepper (omit if desired); freshly ground pepper to taste; 2 tablespoons butter; 1 1/2 pounds medium-size sea scallops; 2 tablespoons Benedictine brandy or brandy of your choice.
Directions: heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan and add the shallots, onion and garlic, stirring over medium heat until wilted. Add the wine and 2 tablespoons of tarragon and bring to a boil. Cook until the wine is reduced by half. Add the stock, tomatoes, peppers and salt to taste, bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Line a saucepan with a sieve and strain the sauce through it. Stir to extract as much liquid as possible from the pulp and herbs. Discard the solids. There should be about 1 1/2 cups of sauce. It will be thin but very tasty.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter and add the scallops. Cook, stirring one or two minutes and add the tomato sauce. Stir to blend and bring to a boil. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons tarragon and 1 tablespoon butter. Place the pasta in a large pasta bowl and pour the sauce and scallops over it, stir to blend and serve topped with pecorino romano grated cheese and a tossed green salad.