We had something of a feast the other night. A pan of scallops grilled and basted with basil butter, a mound of lemon mashed potatoes and an extravagant pudding – a choux pastry cake filled with an homage to my favourite childhood dessert of banana custard. The point of making a craggy ring of pastry, filling it with a thickened vanilla custard and dusting it with a snow of icing sugar was simply to cheer and delight, albeit briefly, in what had been a merciless week. The effort paid off.
It would have been all too easy to eat and drink my way out of the pandemic, and I won’t deny the temptation has been there. But what has been more fun has been the occasional over-the-top dinner, food out of the ordinary – recipes that took longer than usual or using ingredients that wouldn’t normally find their way into my kitchen. My plan to make pudding for four turned out to be pudding for eight as the pastry I normally use for profiteroles rose like a cloud in the oven and I got carried away with the amount of banana custard I made. No problem. I rather enjoyed having a slice for breakfast the following day.
Scallops are a rare treat in our house. There are too many other, cheaper temptations on the fishmonger’s slab. But when I see them at their fat, pearlescent best, quivering like jelly on the ice, there are few things I want more. Turning them on the grill, watching the plump little cushions burnish in the heat, then brushing them with verdant green butter scented with basil, black pepper and lemon, lifted the spirits in more ways than I could have dared to ask.
Scallops, basil butter, lemon mashed potatoes
butter 45g, at room temperature
basil leaves 15g
scallops 8, large
olive oil a little
For the potatoes:
full-cream milk 300ml
lemon juice of 1
olive oil 5 tbsp
Peel the potatoes, cut them into large pieces, then bring to the boil in a pan of salted water. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, until they are tender to the point of a knife.
Cream the butter in a bowl with a wooden spoon until soft. Using a pestle and mortar, mash the basil to a paste with a pinch of salt. Stir the basil into the butter, then add a few drops of lemon juice and set aside.
For the mash, warm the milk in a pan and set aside. Put the drained potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer fitted with a flat paddle beater. Slowly beat the potatoes, adding the warm milk and lemon juice as you go, until you have a loose mash. Beat in the oil. The mash should be creamy, with no lumps. Keep the mash hot.
Soften the basil butter in a small pan over a low heat, then remove from the heat it as soon it is melted. Heat a griddle pan, brush the scallops with a little oil then place them on the hot griddle pan. Press them gently down with a palette knife, so they colour nicely on the hot cast iron, then turn them over. They will need no more than a minute or two on either side. Brush with some of the butter.
Divide the mash between two plates, then place the sizzling scallops on top. Add the remaining basil butter, letting it trickle down into the mash.
Banana custard choux puff
egg yolks 5
caster sugar 100g
plain flour 20g
vanilla extract 1 tsp
double cream 100ml
bananas 3 medium
For the choux ring:
plain flour 150g
Have ready a baking sheet lined with a piece of baking parchment. Draw a 20cm circle on the paper with a dark felt pen then turn the paper over.
Bring the milk almost to the boil in a nonstick saucepan, removing it from the heat just as it starts to rise up the sides of the pan.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together for a minute or so until thick and creamy, then stir in the cornflour, flour and vanilla extract. Whisk in the milk, then rinse out the pan, pour in the custard and return to the heat. Keeping the heat no more than moderately high, and stirring pretty much constantly, warm the custard until it starts to thicken. As soon as it feels heavy on the spoon, remove from the heat and pour into a cold bowl – preferably one set over ice. Beat briefly with the spoon to remove some of the steam, then allow to cool. As soon as the custard is cool, transfer to the fridge until completely cold and set.
Make the choux ring. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat them briefly with a fork, just enough to mix the yolks and whites. Put the water and the butter into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. As soon as the butter is melted, tip in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon to a thick paste. Now beat in the beaten eggs, a little at a time, until the dough is thick and glossy. You can transfer to a stand mixer with a flat beater attachment to mix if you wish.
Using a large metal spoon, place dollops of the dough in a ring on the paper, following the line you have drawn. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until puffed and the top is nicely crackled. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Whip the cream until thick then fold gently into the custard. Peel, thinly slice and add the bananas.
Split the choux ring horizontally with a bread knife. (I also pull out any little bits of uncooked dough that may be inside.) Place the bottom half on a serving plate. Fill the ring with the banana custard. Top with the remaining half of the ring on top and dust with icing sugar.
The Observer aims to publish recipes for fish rated as sustainable by the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide
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