Mara's Broccoli and Scallop Pasta Sauce
Recipe from Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan

1 pound broccoli
1/2 pound scallops, preferably bay
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
Chopped hot chili pepper, 1/8 teaspoon or to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta, making 6 satisfactory servings

Mara Martin is one of the most precious friends I have gained through cooking. When she and her husband Maurizio were teenagers, they borrowed money to buy Da Fiore, an old wine bar in Venice, and proceeded to transform it into one of Italy's most sought-after seafood restaurants. They had no professional experience of food or of any other kind, but they had taste, cooking's principal root from which all other qualities germinate.
Mara's dishes are rigorously based on the superb seafood caught in Venice's portion of the Adriatic, and the preparations are by and large those of the understated, light-handed Venetian tradition. She doesn't shrink from updating them, however, when she finds a promising new union of ingredients, as in this combination of scallops, which are local, and broccoli, which originates in the south of Italy. A small migration to Venice of families from Abruzzi and Apulia in central and southern Italy has supplied customers at the Rialto market for produce of their regions -- produce such as broccoli, which has consequently found a place on Venetian tables.
Mara has a generous hand with butter, which may distress those who think olive oil is the only cooking medium for Italian seafood. But it is butter here that does what needs to be done, tenderly reconcile the reticent mildness of the thin scallop slices with the sourish, vegetal quality of broccoli. It is impossible to imagine a seafood sauce with a blend of flavors more smooth or so ravishing. I had the pleasure of letting Mara make this with Long Island bay scallops in my Watermill kitchen when she and Maurizio came to visit me in the Hamptons one summer. And I discovered that she was using something she had forgetfully omitted from the recipe she had written out for me, thyme. Ah, those great Italian cooks never question their taste, just take a second look at their recipes.

Mara uses pennini, a thin version of boxed penne pasta. Any short, narrow, tubular shape such a maccheronici will work well.

  1. Pare away from the broccoli's main stems, and from the florets' stems as well, the hard, dark green rind and any other tough stringy part.
  2. Wash the stems under cold running water, and the florets in several changes of changes of cold water.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons salt and the thick, main broccoli stems. Cook for 7 or 8 minutes, then add the florets. When the water returns to a boil, cook for another 12 minutes or so, then drain and set aside.
  4. Wash and drain the scallops, trim away from each its thin, tough, white filament; then cut them across the grain into thin rounds. Pat dry with kitchen towels.
  5. Separate the larger floret clusters of the broccoli into smaller pieces and slice the main stems into thin rounds.
  6. Put 6 tablespoons of butter and the chopped onion into a 12-inch skillet and turn the heat on to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently, without letting the onion become colored. Add all the broccoli and turn it over with a wooden spoon to coat it well. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Add the sliced scallops, the thyme, chili pepper, and salt and cook briefly, just until the color of the scallops changes from translucent to flat white. Take the pan off heat and swirl in grated cheese.
  8. When the pasta is nearly done, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan with the scallops and broccoli. Return the pan to medium heat, turn over all ingredients with a wooden spoon, then add the drained hot pasta. Toss it thoroughly but for not more than 20 seconds in the pan that is still over medium heat, empty the contents of the pan into a warm serving bowl, and serve at once.

You can boil and drain the broccoli a few hours in advance, but do not refrigerate.

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