No time for lengthy prep on a midweek Valentine's Day meal? Even when it's in the middle of the week, Valentine's Day calls for a little something special on the menu.
A search of back issues of magazines Cooking Light and Eating Well helped me put together a quick elegant dinner. The prosciutto-wrapped scallops sitting on a bed of sautéed spinach made a delicate entrée paired with creamy Parmesan orzo and roasted green beans with shallots.
I'm not a strict adherer of recipes, often regarding them as more of a guideline, but I stuck close to the scallop recipe. I couldn't find scallops as large as the ones in the recipe - my pound of scallops had twice as many as theirs, so I didn't cook them quite as long. The mild scallops paired well with salty proscuitto and lemony spinach.
The orzo recipe evoked vague Rice-A-Roni memories as I browned the orzo in a bit of melted butter before adding water and broth to simmer instead of boiling the pasta. The orzo absorbed the liquid and produced a creamy risottolike side dish, without all the stirring usually required for risotto.
Roasted snap peas with shallots were an easy fix, but I substituted fresh green beans for the pricey snap peas.
The meal came together in less than an hour, not too bad for a weeknight. The calorie count was about 550, again not too bad. I was feeling fairly virtuous until I added in dessert.
The Individual Chocolate Melting Cakes clocked in at about 350 calories, but what would Valentine's Day be without chocolate? They were supposed to be prepared in muffin tins, but I pulled out my heart-shaped mini cake mold for the occasion. I bought the pan years ago sure that it would come in handy. It was one of those post-holiday sale items that seem like a good idea at the time.
Unfortunately, the heart-shaped cakes didn't pop out of the tin easily, so we had raggedy-edged heart blobs. The rich, dense cake still tasted good, but the muffin tins probably produce a better presentation.
To contact staff writer Julie Robinson, use e-mail or call 348-1230.
Proscuitto-Wrapped Scallops with Spinach
Makes 4 servings
12 large "dry" (see note) sea scallops (about 1 pound)
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 1/4 ounces very thinly sliced prosciutto (about 3 slices), cut into 12 long strips
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
12 ounces baby spinach
Place rack in upper third of oven; heat broiler. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
Pat scallops dry and sprinkle both sides with lemon pepper. Wrap 1 piece of prosciutto around each scallop. Thread scallops crosswise onto skewers (securing the prosciutto to the scallop) and place on the prepared baking sheet. Broil until just cooked through, about 6 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Reserve 1 tablespoon vinaigrette in a small bowl. Place spinach in a colander and rinse under cold water.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add handfuls of spinach (with water still clinging to it) to the pan and cook, stirring, until just wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the spinach and add to the medium bowl; toss to coat with the vinaigrette.
Divide the spinach among 4 plates and top each portion with scallops. Drizzle the scallops with the reserved vinaigrette.
Note: Buy "dry" sea scallops (scallops that have not been treated with sodium tripolyphosphate, or STP). Scallops that have been treated with STP ("wet" scallops) have been subjected to a chemical bath and are not only mushy and less flavorful, but will not brown properly.
Nutrition information per serving: 239 calories, 14 grams fat (3 grams saturated, 8 grams monounsaturated), 47 milligrams cholesterol, 6 grams carbohydrate, 23 grams protein, 2 grams fiber, 620 milligrams sodium, 782 milligrams potassium.
From Eating Well magazine.
Creamy Parmesan Orzo
Unlike traditional pasta, this orzo isn't cooked in a pot of boiling water. Instead, it's cooked slowly in a flavorful broth that captures its starch.
Makes 4 half-cup servings
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup orzo
1 1/4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 1/4 cups water