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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Scallops - Food of the (Mortal) Gods

I was a child when I first tried scallops - you could say they were my first love. My Mediterranean bred husband takes no offense at this, our love of seafood prepared the Mediterranean way is one of the things that brought us together. So when I became Greek-by-marriage and stocked my newleywed pantry with extra virgin olive oil, my fruit tray of Meyer lemons, and my fridge with fresh herbs carefully wrapped in cheesecloth for longevity, naturally I used these ingredients to cook shellfish, bivavles, and fish that was recently swimming in the Pacific, as I live and cook near the California coast.

My seafood creations were never better, prepared so simply. And even though I'm English and Welsh, eating fish battered and fried is no longer an option in my kitchen. Because I am also French and I give the Mediterranean heritage a lot of culinary acclaim.

Last night when I had a craving for Mediterranean seafood, I picked up my Provence cookbook to find a recipe for Coquilles St. Jacques. I discovered that Coquilles St. Jacques translated from French to English means "shells of St. James". Apparently, scallops are beloved and revered throughout history.

The scallop shell was the emblem of Saint James. Legend has it that St. James saved the life of a drowning knight who then emerged from the sea covered with scallop shells. Thereafter, scallops were often called Coquilles St. Jacques.

To make Coquilles St. Jacques, scallops are seasoned with salt and pepper, sauteed in olive oil, then a little bit of butter prior to adding a persillade (a paste of Italian parsley and garlic pounded with mortar and pestle), then drizzled with lemon juice. French? Greek? Once it graces your taste buds, it matters not at all. You will be in love despite the origin, but their history makes scallops more enigmatic.

I have been looking at a famous scallop shell for years without knowing it (no, I'm not talking about the oil company logo). The Birth of Venus has always been one of my favorite works of art, yet I admit I have always admired the long, flowing red hair, beauty of Venus herself, and noted the Zephyrs and a Goddess of the Seasons (Horae). I never realized Venus emerges from the sea on a scallop shell. I have read that Botticelli was inspired by paintings of the ancient Greeks who featured Venus rising from the sea...whatever his inspiration, the Uffizi isn't the only place you'll see beauty and the bivalve. In Pompeii there still exists a mural of Venus on a what looks like a scallop shell, at least to me.

Yet, I want to see it that way. Art and food have more meaning to me with a rich history, with classical references. (If I can work my own history into them too.) Theories as large as the world, myths as old as the written word, all within a shell that fits in the palm of your hand.

I imagine scallops as food of the mortal Gods. Maybe what an archangel would eat. Maybe what someone would feed to their true love, as their histories come full circle, in the shape of a circle.

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