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Pesto scallops from a favorite seaside haunt 

Bring the beach home

Now that school's out, Triangle folks head for the beach to mark the real beginning of summer.

Like homing pigeons, most beachgoers tend to flock to the same surfside spot year after year. On the other hand, some sample a different shore each vacation, from Corolla to North Myrtle Beach, and still feel they are coming home to the same Carolina coast. I'm one of those who has tried many of the coastal towns in North and South Carolina, and find I come back to the same two with affection and continuity: Ocracoke Island and Wrightsville Beach. Wrightsville is so close to Independent readers' territory that we feel it is almost ours—just right for a day trip, and perfect for travelers who may have to zip back for a day or two of work while the rest of the family or group soaks up an entire week. And what could be better than sand between your toes, outdoor music, long walks in the surf—and seafood?

In her April 2009 feature titled "Sea Change," Gourmet magazine writer Jane Daniels Lear says she found the best food of her entire Outer Banks trek on Ocracoke Island, calling the takeout at my favorites, Café Atlantic, Flying Melon and Thai Moon, as good as it gets. We are lucky indeed to have so many dining options, but we have something else, too: If our week of surf and sun isn't coming until end of summer, or we can't go at all this year, we can bring the taste of the beach home. Fresh North Carolina scallops, local tomatoes, freshly made basil pesto (from your own container garden) and young onions or scallions come together in the sunny recipe below, reprinted with permission and my tweaking, from the Café Atlantic Cookbook.

I first ate at the café in the summer of 1990, with my baby daughter giggling through sample tastings from the restaurant high chair. I marveled at the freshness and inventiveness of the seafood, side dishes and even the hot rolls (now baguettes) that came with the meal. I've eaten there every trip to Ocracoke since, and the flavors and freshness have never wavered from excellent. So, when Gourmet singled out its specialness, I felt a sense of pride: I could've told you that. In a recent phone interview with Bob Toth, co-chef and owner with his wife, Ruth (author of the cookbook), he said they were pleased with the national coverage, and they'd be equally pleased to share their recipe with the Indy. Chef and visual artist Debbie Wells, former owner of Ocracoke's Back Porch Restaurant and Wine Bar, created the dish especially for the café.

When my husband made this as a surprise dinner one night recently, we discovered by accident that sautéing the scallions ahead of time, with the bacon, and setting them aside to be returned to the skillet at the end, again with the bacon, added nicely to the slight crunchy texture. The amounts of butter and olive oil you need for sautéing will vary depending on how wet your scallops are; we used two tablespoons each after patting the scallops dry. We also served it with sturdy hot French bread for mopping up the juices.

Pesto Scallops

12 slices of bacon
1 1/2 pounds sea scallops, de-bearded
Butter and olive oil for sautéing
1 1/3 cups tomatoes, chopped
1 cup scallions, chopped
4 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup pesto mayo (see note below)

Cook bacon until crunchy and drain fat; set aside. Sauté scallops in the butter and olive oil until browned and not quite cooked through (about 2 minutes). Add cooked bacon, tomatoes, scallions and lemon juice. Heat until all ingredients are hot (another 2 minutes). Serve in a shallow dish to hold all the juices. Top with a generous dollop of pesto mayonnaise. Garnish with lemon and chopped parsley.

For pesto mayo: Combine 3/4 cup pesto, 1/4 cup mayonnaise and juice of half a lemon. Blend and refrigerate for up to a week.

See also

  • If you're heading to Wrightsville Beach, check out Victoria Bouloubasis' "Uptown brunch Down East" (Escapist Eats, July 2, 2008)
  • If you're going as far as the Outer Banks, take a copy of Jane Hobson Snyder's Taste of the Beach guide to the happening foodie places ("A food lover's guide to the Outer Banks," cover story, March 18, 2009)


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