The Fish Market at Rialto on Christmas Eve
It was great fun to struggle through the crowds to the pescheria like a Venetian on Christmas Eve. Traditionally only fish not meat passes their lips on La Vigilia but on the other hand there’s no way you could call it a fasting day! Italian housewives are out until the evening topping up their extensive provisions for the banquets to come.
Traditionally I offer a Lobster Supper (festive, nearly calorie-free and no cooking) on Christmas Eve but Venice seemed to be pretty much a lobster-free zone so we had a variety of other things instead. The recipe I think worth sharing is for a simplified Coquilles Saint Jacques which came after the garlic and chilli prawns and before the San Pietro (John Dory). You can see the scallops in the picture above but sadly we ate them too fast to offer you a photo of the finished dish. The local baker had for sale Panettone made on the premises and melting Lindt Intense dark orange chocolate and adding a little thin cream made a pudding worthy of the name. Let me know what you think!
Of course the great thing with fish is that you can eat your own weight in the stuff without putting on a pound so a little chocolate sauce is definitely allowed.
Coquilles Saint-Jacques for four
One scallop per person, ideally with its shell (but you can use a cocotte dish)
2 x leeks trimmed and very finely chopped
100g of Parmesan or another hard cheese finely grated
A glass of white wine
A small pot of single cream
A handful of white breadcrumbs per person
A tsp of olive oil
Make sure the scallops are really clean. This is a given if they’ve come from the supermarket but not, let me tell you, if the fish market has been involved. Get rid of any sand and trim them if they need the membrane removing.
Poach them in a little water for a couple of minutes and then fish them out and set them and the liquid aside while you make the sauce.
Sweat the finely minced leek in the olive oil until it has nearly melted. Then add all the breadcrumbs as if you were making a roux. Gradually add alternate tablespoons of white wine and cream to the leek and breadcrumbs until you have a sauce thick enough to spoon over the scallops. Now taste it and adjust the proportions (more cream?, more wine?) and the seasoning. If the sauce is too strong you can add a tablespoon of the scallop cooking water.
Arrange each scallop on its dish and spoon over a generous amount of thick sauce. Allow to cool. Cover with cling film and set in the fridge until you want to eat them. Allow them to come back to room temperature and grate some cheese over each before putting in a very hot oven for ten minutes or until the sauce bubbles slightly.
This isn’t as grand as the traditional version with piped Duchesse potatoes but it does taste as good and you have no piping bag to wash. (Result!) It’s really useful as an impressive course in a special meal as it can be done the day before.