We arrived at dusk while there was enough light to sit outside on the wooden deck that backed up against a grassy hill. What looks like the decayed remnant of a hundred year old shed leans perilously to one side.
In the summer, visitors come to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts to escape the heat and congestion of the city. Offering opportunities to relax and catch up on your reading, a string of small towns with B&Bs cuts through the expanses of woods and farmlands.
With music at Tanglewood and dance at Jacob's Pillow, historical sites like Edith Wharton's home, the Mount, the Berkshire Botanical Garden and innovative exhibits at MASS MoCa in North Adams, there's plenty to keep you occupied.
In August I visited the area for the first time. Beyond the charms of small New England towns and the pleasure of world class art, the Berkshires also has great chefs who take advantage of good products from local farms.
On that trip in August, we had a tasting of chef Smith's menu that included a grilled eggplant with local heirloom tomatoes, creamy mozzarella and a drizzle of basil,
All those dishes were delicious. The creme de la creme was Smith's diver's scallops with a risotto of roast cauliflower, leeks and pancetta. This was no ordinary risotto. This was a risotto without rice.
Chef Smith likes the creaminess of risotto but wanted a side dish that didn't rely on rice for flavor and texture.
There isn't a good reason to call this a "risotto," but I liked the result so I wouldn't deny him his naming rights.
He pared the creamy cauliflower with tender, sweet scallops. I could easily imagine the risotto accompanying grilled halibut, a thick medium-rare bone-in ribeye steak or a roasted chicken breast.
Happily chef Smith was generous enough to send me the recipe so I could make the dish at home.
Diver Scallops, Risotto of Roast Cauliflower-Leeks-Pancetta, Charred Scallion Oil
The dish can be served as an appetizer or entrée.
Serves 4 as an entrée
16 large diver sea scallops, washed, pat dried
1 head cauliflower, washed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cup olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 bunch scallions
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
1. Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.
2. Trim cauliflower, leaving the tender florets. Separate the florets and toss in a bowl with garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 teaspoons sea salt. Spread seasoned cauliflower on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven 30 minutes until cauliflower is tender.
3. Trim and wash scallions, season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Char the scallions on a grill or roast in the 400 F degree oven until tender. Let cool, chop up and place in a blender with 3/4 cup olive oil. Makes approximately 1 cup scallion oil. Use half the scallion oil for the recipe. Refrigerate the remainder to use with fish.
4. Slice leeks in half, length wise, then slice across each half to create 1/2" strips. Rise well in clean water and place in a non-reactive sauce pan, cover with water and add a pinch of sea salt. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes on medium high heat. Stir leeks every couple of minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the lid, reduce the heat to medium and cook leeks until tender and most of the liquid has reduced.
5. In a sauce pan, render the chopped pancetta until brown and crispy. Drain well. Discard the fat. Toss together the pancetta, leeks and roasted cauliflower florets in the sauce pan. Stir in the heavy cream and simmer. Reduce the cream to coat cauliflower, stir in Parmesan and chopped parsley.
6. Heat a large stainless steel or cast iron pan on a medium high flame. Season the scallops with sea salt and sear 1 minute per side.
7. Place 4 scallops on each plate on a bed of cauliflower risotto, drizzle with scallion oil.