In My Kitchen, September 2018

A few years ago, an old friend mentioned that he found my blog very positive. Since that day, I decided to keep it that way. There’s enough negativity in the world without me adding my two bob’s worth concerning the sadness of our times, family illness and the winter of my discontent: in times like these, graceful silence makes more sense. And so I raise my glass to Spring, and though the vestiges of Winter will stay with us for some time, Spring brings hope. The bounce of early morning kangaroos in the front paddock, the alarming yellow of late winter daffodils pushing through the grass and the efflorescence of pear blossom, a snow-white foreground to a cold misty morning, bring glad tidings and a sense of anticipation and transformation.

View from kitchen window, pear blossom , Spring 2018

But now, let’s get back in the kitchen, the place where magic happens every day. This season’s local fresh scallops ( from Tasmania or Lakes Entrance) have made an appearance in the fish markets. The Bass Strait scallop season opens in mid July, and they are at their freshest in August and September, though the season continues through to December. The industry is highly regulated and subject to quotas. Fresh local scallops are my favourite seafood and bring comfort and joy to my kitchen. Not only are they subtle and delicious, but are easy to prepare, quick to cook and a few go a long way.

Collected shells, containers for Coquilles St Jacques, sauces and dips.

Some years ago, I collected a huge pile of scallop shells when visiting Lakes Entrance on the east coast of Victoria. We sat by a fishing trawler as an older Greek man shucked thousands of scallops into a large box, destined that day for the Melbourne and Sydney fish markets while the beautiful flawless shells were tossed into plastic bags. I took away a large bag of shells and every season, I freshen them up in readiness for a favourite dish, Coquilles St Jacques, baked scallops on the half shell. The scallop shell is the emblem of St Jacques, St James, Sant’Iago or San Giacomo, (depending on your language) and as such, is the symbol of the camino, and in particular, the town of Santiago di Compostela in Galicia, the final stop of that famous pilgrims’ route. Those who have visited Santiago di Compostela or passed through the various French or Spanish towns along the way, will be familiar with the scallop shell embedded in walkways and roads. Modern pilgrims carry the shell around their necks, on the end of their walking sticks or backpacks as a sign to other pilgrims. But the question remains- why the scallop shell? One answer may lie in the Italian word for scallop- Capesante. It is said that the shell was used by the saint to contain water to be used for blessing or benediction on the heads of his followers. Then again, the scallop shell washes up along the shores of Galicia, burial-place of St James, another simple connection.

Santiago in Galicia in his scallop shell hat. Photo from my journey there in 2008.

Another legend provides further clues,

” Following his execution, James’ headless body was being brought to Galicia in northwest Spain to be laid to rest. As the boat containing his body approached the coast, a knight on horseback was walking the cliffs above the Atlantic. Upon seeing the boat, the horse bolted and plummeted into the sea with the knight. St James is said to have miraculously intervened and saved the knight, still on horseback, who emerged covered in scallop shells.”¹

But then, digging a little deeper, we find that a similar pilgrimage route, ending in Finisterre in Galicia, was used in Roman times by pagans:

“In Roman Hispania, there was a route known as the Janus Path used by pagans as a born-again ritual and ending in Finisterre. Its starting point? The Temple of Venus, Roman goddess of love. Venus is said to have risen from the sea on a scallop shell, as depicted in Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, and is associated with fertility rituals practiced along the route.

Ideas and themes associated with the cult of Janus are echoed by the concept of transformation on the Camino de Santiago. The Roman god Janus, for whom the month January is named, is the god of beginnings and endings, transition and transformation – all ideas shared by pilgrimages and discovered on the Camino today, a constant source of renewal and rediscovery.” ¹

Nascita di Venere. Sandro Botticelli. Uffizi, Firenze

Sant’Iago and these fabulous legends are wonderfully distracting thoughts as I prepare this season’s scallops in my kitchen. To prepare shucked scallops for a recipe, simply tear off the small ligament or tract line on the side. Please keep the roe- an equally delicious part of the scallop and proof that the product is fresh and not from some frozen packet from who knows where. Check that the scallops aren’t overly plump- a sign that they have been soaking in water which makes them less tasty but more costly.

300 gr of scallops, a greedy night for two.
Spaghettini con capesante, porri e zafferano. A hot serving bowl full of spaghettini, scallops, leek, saffron, EV oil and herbs. Recipe soon.

Good things like scallops demand a few lovely condiments. This little Iranian saffron box is one of the jewels residing in my kitchen spice drawer, the ‘dark arts’ drawer as Mr T likes to call it.

Box of Iranian saffron, Preston market.

On my kitchen bench, right next to the stove, stands a bunch of fresh herbs, a tussy mussy of inspiration, replenished often but saving a cold evening walk to the herb garden. This bunch includes winter favourites- parsley, wild fennel, rosemary, thyme, dill and bay.

Herb tussy mussy. Life without herbs is unimaginable.

I bought these cute graters in Bali last month for the princely sum of AU$1. Hand made of stainless steel, they are as effective as my costly Microplane. There’s one for my old friend/ex student Rachael P, and, as I’m returning to Bali next week, I may buy a few more for gifts.

Handmade Balinese microplanes.

Next to the kitchen radio sits a container of Lotus tea. The flask is refilled with hot water from the whistling kettle on top of my wood stove. Another simple pleasure concomitant with Winter.

Sipping Lotus tea in my kitchen. Jon or Raff on the radio or maybe a morning raga.

Thanks once again to Sherry, of Sherry’s Pickings, who hosts the monthly event of In My Kitchen. It’s another positive place where the world gathers to showcase simple delights.

Spaghettini, capesante, porri e zafferano. Paradiso in inverno.

Older scallop posts with recipes:

https://almostitalian.blog/2015/09/23/pasta-con-capesante-scallop-season/

https://almostitalian.blog/2015/10/30/the-seafood-coast-of-eastern-victoria/

¹ https://followthecamino.com/blog/scallop-shell-camino-de-santiago/

Pasta con Capesante. Scallop Season.

Sea scallops, besides being a delicious seasonal treat, come loaded with myth and metaphor, from the fertility symbol of antiquity (the shell symbolising the protective and nurturing principle, and inwardly, the “life-force slumbering within the Earth”, an emblem of the vulva) to the modern-day adoption of the scallop shell for less romantic purposes, such as the Shell Petroleum company.

The most endearing connection is the scallop’s association with St James/ Santiago/St Jacques. Those who have walked part, or all the camino, arriving in Santiago di Compostela in Galicia, will be familiar with the cockle shell carried on the end of their bastone or walking stick, to arrive at the Cathedral in Santiago for a blessing or mass. The scallop shell is the most ubiquitous tourist memento from Santiago di Compostela and probably has been since medieval times.

Santiago in his shell covered hat.
Santiago in his shell covered hat.

For the pre-Christian Celt, the scallop shell resembled the setting sun, which was the focus of Celtic rituals in Galicia. The camino route was a Celtic death journey westwards towards the setting sun, terminating at the Finisterra, the end of the world, on the Costa da Morte.

This all makes lots of sense really but then how did St James, Santiago, St Jacques, become associated with sea scallops?

More scallop onamentation on Saint James.
More scallop ornamentation on Saint James.

The association can most likely be traced to the legend that the apostle once rescued a knight covered in scallops. An alternative version of the legend holds that while St. James’ remains were being transported to Galicia in Spain, the horse of a knight fell into the water, and emerged covered in the shells.

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The Italians have three names for the tasty scallop, the most common being capesante, deriving from medieval times when priests used the shell to pour holy water onto the heads of those receiving baptism. The alternate names, conchiglia di San Giacomo (like the French coquilles Saint Jacques)  and conchiglia del pellegrino simply meaning St James’ shell or the shell of the pilgrim.

The English derivation of scallop comes from the French, escalope, meaning ‘shell’, not so historically romantic.

Scallop statues of Santiago di Compostella.
Scallop statues of Santiago di Compostela.

Scallop season begins here in late July (mid winter) in the Bass Straight central district, around the cold and pristine waters off the east Coast of Victoria. The quota has increased this season, indicating that stocks are healthy, and usually runs till early December. Scallops from Lakes Entrance are in a class of their own, especially if you can get them as soon as they arrive in the fisherman’s co-op.

One of my favourite scallop dishes combines them with a super fine pasta such as capellini or tagliatelline egg pasta, with the scallops finely sliced and tossed with lots of garlic sauce and a hint of chilli.

capellini con capsante

Tagliatellini con Capesante. Fine egg pasta with scallops.

Ingredients for Two

  • 200 g thin egg pasta (tagliatelline)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • two pinches dried chilli flakes
  • your best olive oil, a generous glug
  • 250 gr scallops, cleaned, sliced.
  • dry white wine, around 1/4 glass.
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • finely chopped handful of Italian parsley.

Method

  • Cook the pasta in ample salted boiling water, according to packet instructions.
  • Meanwhile, add olive oil to a large frying pan. When it is hot, quickly stir around the scallop slices. Don’t cook for more than one minute.
  • Add garlic and chilli flakes, toss about, then add the wine, then finely ground black pepper. Toss again. If the pasta isn’t ready, remove the scallop sauce from the heat.
  • Drain the pasta well. Add to the frying pan, folding through with the scallop sauce. Add the parsley then serve in heated bowls.
    tagliatelline con capesante
    tagliatelline con capesante

    This song goes so nicely with scallop season and memories of Santiago de Compostela. Chove en Santiago by Luar na Lubre. When I first heard this song echoing down a rainy lane in Santiago de Compostela, I cried. Sung in Galician, with strong Celtic threads, it still overwhelms me.

On the Way in Santiago di Compostela.

On the way to the cathedral of Santiago di Compostela, I noticed this guitarist. He wasn’t busking but probably was on the way somewhere himself when taken by the urge to play a tune.

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The music of Santiago di Compostela, Galicia, Spain is intriguing. Unlike most Spanish music, Galician music is strongly Celtic in origin. Further along the way, I was seduced by the distant sound of bagpipes echoing from a portico below the cathedral. As I got closer, the sound amplified in the darkness, overwhelming my emotions.

Santiago di Compostela is memorable for so many reasons, not just its famous Camino!