grilled scallops on a bed of salsify, wreathed in arugula


not an Advent wreath, but it does look festive; probably tastes much better


For years I had been trying very hard to find a way to use salsify.  The vegetable had long fascinated me, at least partly for its homeliness. The fact that I could find almost nothing in the way of a recipe in any of my books or files didn’t help.  It also didn’t help that I was unaware that ‘oyster plant’ was another name for the same vegetable, meaning that it was actually under my nose all along.

I had often seen black salsify in the Greenmarket, but the stalks always seemed to be too narrow to deal with easily if you aren’t just going to add it to a soup or a stew, especially since the vegetable has to be peeled.


Then last week, when I spotted this beautiful row of white salsify displayed in the Greenmarket by one of my favorite farms, I finally decided to take some home.  I first picked up five or six, put them in a bag, and had already exchanged some banter about the root before I asked how much they would cost.  I heard, “20 dollars a pound”, and thought it was a part of the banter.  It wasn’t.

I thought, wow, vegetables sure have come a long way since the days when they only grew (and often died) inside supermarkets, and apparently I’m not the only one who esteems them above meat today.  I returned all but one stalk to the row where I had seen it, but three days later I returned for one more.  I still didn’t know what I would do with the vegetable, but I didn’t think I wanted to be caught short when I did.

Now I wish I had bought four.

Last night, starting too late as usual, but interested in marrying the scallops with the salsify, I looked on line once again, I found a mere sketch of an attractive recipe, but one which I decided I could work with, and it could put a meal on the table in about an hour.

The original recipe is so simple it seems like it’s intended as only a framework for others to play with.  In my version there were some serious liberties taken, one of which included a substitute for the watercress.  I didn’t have watercress, but I did have some extraordinarily luscious arugula. Those very fresh greens were so good that I ended up using a reckless amount, which meant I had to place it next to the scallops and salsify, not on them;  I decided on a circle – only for the geometric efficiency of course.

Other changes included dressing the arugula with good oil, salt, crushed pepper, and a drizzle of organic lemon.  I also Pan grilled the scallops, as I do usually, and, especially because they were fairly small already, I did not halve them.  I parboiled the thinly-sliced salsify, then sautéed it, but next time I’ll simply slice it into ¼-inch segments and caramelize them in butter. The next time I will also try for more salsify, and larger scallops (I won’t halve them), and whatever green (or ‘red’) I use will be in a smaller amount, and sprinkled over the salsify (but maybe not the shellfish).

I want to ask everyone out there reading this to please ask for salsify when you’re in your local greenmarket.  It’s a delicious vegetable, and its preparation is absolutely nothing to be afraid of, but It’s pretty expensive right now, and I can only think it has something to do with rarity.

  • two handsome salsify roots from John D. Madura Farm, scrubbed, peeled, cut into thin slices, blanched, drained, and dried on paper towels, sautéed in olive oil until the slices began to turn brown, then seasoned with salt and ‘India Special Extra Bold’ Tellicherry peppercorns, and spread onto the center of two plates, topped with 14 small scallops (nine ounces) which had been washed, rinsed and dried, seasoned with salt and the same ‘special’ peppercorns, pan grilled, turning once, finished with a squeeze of lemon juice and drizzled with olive oil
  • very fresh, very, very sweet and tasty young arugula from Lani’s Farm, washed, dried, and spread around the circumference of the plates, drizled with a little good olive oil, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice
  • the wine was a California (Clarksburg) white, Akiyoshi Reserve Chardonnay Clarksburg 2014
  • the music was Michel van der Aa’s Violin Concerto