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Bay scallops á là vodka with butternut squash and baby peas. (Credit: John Ross)

Four ways to celebrate scallop season
Give me my scallop shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,
And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.
Excerpt, ‘The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage’

by Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)

After the farm stands wind down, the grapes are all in and the leaves have fallen, we begin a brand-new season every fall to breathe more life into the North Fork. The Peconic Bay scallop harvest begins the first Monday of November and stretches until March — or until the scallops run out.

Bay scallops are a chef’s dream to cook because they can be prepared so many ways, or not cooked at all. They test our imagination and the only rule is not to over-prepare them. Keep it simple enough to let their natural flavors shine through. Here are some fresh suggestions.

Butter-Poached Bay Scallops
with Avocado, Lime and Cilantro

Purchase 1 pound of Peconic Bay scallops. Melt 1/2 pound unsalted butter in a large, shallow saucepan. Heat the butter to a simmer (180 degrees) and add the scallops. Add the juice and zest of 1 lime and cook at medium heat until the scallops just turn opaque (about 4 minutes). Remove scallops with a slotted spoon and set aside. Cut a ripe avocado in half and remove the seed. Scoop out the flesh and cut it into wedges. Toss the avocado with 1 tablespoon lime juice and chop ¼ cup cilantro. Add the scallops, avocado and cilantro back to the butter sauce to reheat. Serve with long-grain white rice and steamed spinach. Garnish with a wedge of lime.

Serves 2-4.

Bay Scallops Á la Vodka

Purchase 1 pound of Peconic Bay scallops. Add them to a large bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Peel 1 butternut squash and cut it into small (half-inch) dice. Chop enough shallots to fill 1 cup.

Spray a large sauté pan with no-stick and place it over high heat. Add the scallops to the hot pan and brown them quickly, removing them with a spatula as they brown. Do not crowd them in the pan.

When the scallops are all browned, set them aside, lower the heat and add 2 tablespoons butter to the pan. Add the butternut squash and cook on medium heat until just tender, about 8 minutes. Remove the squash and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan along with the chopped shallots. Let them soften at low heat for 5 minutes, then add 1 cup vodka to the pan and turn up the heat. Let it come to a boil and reduce by half before stirring in 1 cup heavy cream and reducing the heat.

Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a pasta pot and cook 1 pound of orecchiette until al dente.

Add the scallops back to the sauce along with the squash and 1 package of frozen baby peas. Bring back up to heat and combine with the orecchiette. Stir in fresh ground pepper and salt to taste.

If desired, grate 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if desired and add it to the dish.

Serves 4-6.

Bay Scallop, Oyster and Clam Soup

Purchase 1/2 pound of Peconic Bay scallops, 1 dozen oysters in the shell and 1 dozen littleneck clams, also in their shells. Scrub the oysters and clams under cold water with a vegetable brush.

Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large saucepan and reduce heat to low. Stir in 2 chopped leeks (white part), 1/2 cup minced shallots and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Cover and cook at very low heat for 5 minutes. (This is called sweating.)

Add 1 cup good-quality chardonnay to the pan along with 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Increase the heat and bring the chardonnay to a boil, then add the littleneck clams. Cover and cook until they begin to open, then remove the cover and pull the clams out with tongs as they open.

Add the oysters in their shells to the boiling liquid and cover. Cook until they just begin to open and remove. (You will have to finish opening them with a clam knife.)

Lower the heat to a simmer and add the scallops along with 2 cups heavy cream. Cook until the scallops are just turning opaque before adding back the shucked oysters and clams.

Add salt and pepper to taste and serve in shallow bowls with oyster crackers.

Serves 4-6.

Bay Scallops wrapped in Pancetta over Creamy Polenta

Purchase 1 pound of Peconic Bay scallops and toss them in a bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Purchase a 4-ounce package of pancetta and separate the pieces. Cut each one in half and wrap it around a scallop. Run a thin metal skewer through the middle of the scallop and pancetta. (Don’t worry if they seem a little loose.) You will fit about 8 scallops on each skewer. Place the skewers on a foil-lined sheet pan.

For the polenta, bring 2 cups water, 2 cups milk and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups coarse cornmeal, lower the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the polenta thickens. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and some ground pepper.

Close to service time, heat the broiler setting on your oven and place the scallops on the middle shelf. Broil for about 5 minutes or until the pancetta turns crisp and the scallops opaque. Put the creamy polenta on a plate with a little steamed spinach on the side. Slide the scallops off of the skewers and onto the polenta.

Serves 4-6.

John Ross