This year has asked a lot of us. Through all the intensity, food has been there to offer more comfort than ever. Since our 2020 holidays will look quite different from any other, I thought to marry a bit of comfort with indulgence for a special end-of-year meal. This dish celebrates simple ingredients, but don’t be fooled: Every mouthful is very much greater than the sum of its parts.
Beans are often relegated to humble sustenance food. When cooked into a tender stew—here infused with fragrant saffron—they and their liquor transform into a thing utterly divine. I used navy beans, but any light, creamy bean works, including cannellini, great northern, cranberry, or cassoulet beans.
Saffron immediately reshapes a dish into a special occasion. The spice is the stigmas of the autumn crocus flower. Each flower produces just three stigmas, and as they are so delicate, they can only be harvested and processed by hand. This is why saffron is pricy; but happily, a very little bit goes a long way.
In this preparation, saffron’s distinctive earthiness adds dimension to both the beans and scallops. Meaty diver scallops are seared in a cast-iron skillet using olive oil and ghee. Basting them in the hot fat as they finish cooking helps seal in a glorious bronzy crust. This texture makes a perfect foil to their otherwise tender, sweet flesh. A handful of fresh herbs is the final flourish, to brighten and unite the dish.
Serve in shallow, wide bowls you can hold in your hands, to warm from the inside and out as you eat. This a worthy meal to celebrate health, tenacity, and appreciation for the simple things.
(This preparation is made to serve two, but scales up easily if you are feeding more people or want extra beans for later.) —Melina Hammer
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
- Serves 2
- For the beans
dried navy beans
shallots, peeled, ends trimmed, and sliced into thin rings
to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, depending on your penchant for heat
good olive oil
kosher salt, plus more to taste
- for the scallops
to 5 diver scallops per person, depending on their size
to 2 tablespoons good olive oil
fresh dill fronds or parsley, to garnish
kosher salt, plus more to taste
freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
- Soak beans the night before, with enough cold water to submerge by 2 inches, about 2 cups.
- Sauté shallots in olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot until translucent and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Drain beans into a colander, then add into the large pot or Dutch oven. Add the saffron, chili flakes, and paprika, and stir in the beans until combined. Add enough water to cover by 1/2 inch and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and cook until tender, about 70 minutes.
- Once the beans are tender, season with ½ teaspoon salt. Stir to combine, taste, and add more as needed. This step is best done at the start of the day, where the beans can sit in their liquor for a few hours, soaking in their liquid to enrich the overall texture. This can also be done a day in advance, left to sit at room temperature with the lid ajar.
- Arrange scallops on an absorbent paper-lined tray and pat dry. Season with salt and allow to sit at room temperature an hour before cooking.
- Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Turn to medium-high once hot, add a tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat. As soon as the oil pulls to pan edges, add half the scallops, keeping space between them to avoid crowding. Cook for a minute, then add half the ghee, dragging it between the scallops using a knife or tongs as it foams.
- Sear scallops in two batches, 3 minutes on the first side to develop a golden crust, then turn to the second side and baste with the hot fat, tipping pan towards you to collect spoonfuls and pouring over scallops repeatedly, for about 30 seconds. Scallops are ready when they are bouncy when pressed with the back of a large spoon. Transfer scallops to a plate and repeat with the second batch, adding the remainder of oil and ghee to cook as you did in the first batch.
- As the scallops finish cooking, reheat beans if you allowed them to sit, adding any accumulated juices from the scallops plate and stir to incorporate. Ladle beans into shallow bowls and nestle in the scallops. Add a few grinds of freshly cracked pepper, scatter herbs on top, and eat at once.