A quiet Christmas - it is an idyllic thought. Hot coffee and presents around the fire with the tree lights twinkling and the weather outside - sunny or bleak - a matter of indifference. Later in the day comes dinner, and it must not break the mood.
This is the moment to indulge in the freshest fish and poultry and, if your tastes lie in that direction, in the finest wines.
My choice of a quiet Christmas dinner would begin with scallops, baked with herbs and butter in their own juices. Lacking fresh scallops (please don`t be tempted by frozen), I`d substitute peeled, uncooked shrimp, which will bake to a bright pink as a pretty surprise.
Baked scallops in herb butter
2 pounds bay or sea scallops
6 tablespoons butter
4 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, optional
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or basil, optional; see note
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Drain scallops. Leave bay scallops whole; cut sea scallops in 2 or 3 horizontal slices. Divide scallops among 8 individual ramekins or custard cups (each 1 cup capacity).
2. Melt butter in small pan. Add shallots; cook 2 minutes until soft. Cool, then add garlic, parsley, herbs (if using) and a little salt and pepper. Spoon butter over scallops; seal each container tightly with foil. Scallops can be prepared 4 to 6 hours ahead and refrigerated.
3. To finish, heat oven to 425 degrees. Bake until scallops are opaque, 12 to 14 minutes. (Do not overcook or scallops will be tough. Serve at once in ramekins or custard cups, allowing guests to remove foil.) Serve scallops with crusty bread to mop up the juices.
Note: If either fresh tarragon or basil are not available, use only fresh parsley in this recipe.