February 2019 Issue

Culinary Corner: Scallops for Two
By Jessica Ivey, RDN, LDN
Today's Dietitian
Vol. 21, No. 2, P. 66

If you've lived abroad for any length of time, you know that, no matter how good the local food, you start to miss things from home. When I was a sophomore in college, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, where I took classes in Italian language, art, and cooking. I was eager to try all the local fare, but after a couple of months, I just wanted peanut butter, Mexican food, and grits. Lucky for me, I discovered polenta, an Italian dish very similar to grits. Like grits, polenta is a type of porridge made from dried ground corn, which was enough to satisfy my craving.1

While living in Italy, I also learned about Italian art. One painting that has always stood out in my mind is Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, which is on display in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The masterpiece depicts Venus, the goddess of love, standing on a large scallop shell. As it turns out, scallops have been associated with themes of eroticism, love, and fertility since prehistoric times, making them a fitting dish for Valentine's Day.2

Whether or not they actually have any aphrodisiac properties, scallops are a quick-cooking lean protein simple enough for a weeknight meal but special enough for a celebration. Advise clients to look for dry-packed scallops rather than "wet" scallops that have been soaked in a sodium solution to lengthen their shelf life. Wet scallops retain moisture, making them difficult to brown, and they're higher in sodium.

Most varieties of scallops are listed as a "Best Choice" seafood by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, so RDs can assure clients they're a sustainable choice.

When it comes to size, scallops are labeled according to how many are in a pound. Thus, a higher number indicates a smaller size. For this recipe, I recommend U15 or U20 scallops. Remember to instruct clients to remove the small side muscle, which is tough and unpalatable, from each scallop before cooking.

This dish pairs well with wilted garlicky spinach or a light green salad—and maybe a nice glass of Prosecco.

— Jessica Ivey, RDN, LDN, is a dietitian and chef with a passion for teaching people to eat healthfully for a happy and delicious life. Ivey offers approachable healthful living tips, from fast recipes to meal prep guides and ways to enjoy exercise on her website, JessicaIveyRDN.com.

1. Dupree N, Graubart C. Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith; 2012:255.

2. Rätsch C, Müller-Ebeling C. The Encyclopedia of Aphrodisiacs: Psychoactive Substances for Use in Sexual Practices. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press; 2003:564-565.


Seared Scallops With Polenta

Serves 2


1 3/4 cups water
1/2 cup polenta
2 T grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp salt

1/2 lb large sea scallops (about 8 to 10 scallops)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

6 T dry white wine
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp water
1/4 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp unsalted butter
1/8 tsp salt
1 T chopped fresh parsley (optional)

1. Bring 1 3/4 cups water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until polenta is creamy and reaches desired thickness, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in Parmesan cheese and 1/8 tsp salt.

2. Remove the small side muscle from the scallops, rinse with cold water, and thoroughly pat dry.

3. Sprinkle scallops with 1/8 tsp salt and pepper. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and coat with cooking spray. Add scallops and cook about 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from pan and keep warm.

4. Add wine and lemon juice to pan, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, and cook 2 minutes, stirring to loosen browned bits from bottom of pan. Combine 11/2 teaspoons water and the cornstarch; add to pan. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes or until sauce begins to thicken. Add butter and 1/8 tsp salt. Stir in parsley, if using.

5. Spoon polenta evenly onto two plates and top with scallops and wine sauce. Serve with wilted spinach or a green salad, if desired.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 300; Total fat: 4 g; Sat fat: 1.5 g; Cholesterol: 35 mg; Sodium: 690 mg; Total carbohydrate: 35 g; Dietary fiber: 2 g; Sugars: 1 g; Protein: 22 g