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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nantes Loire location shapes its food

This fish monger's stall was one of the busiest early on a Wednesday morning at Nantes' Talensac Market.

The food of Nantes, once at the Atlantic Ocean mouth of France's  Loire River, has been shaped by its location for eons. Read about it  Sunday in Travel, but today I'm offering a scallops recipe that has its roots in the 18th century, when Nantes was a primary port for spices from Asia.
Earlier it had been Europe's main port for ships picking up slaves in Africa, delivering them to the West Indies sugar plantations and bringing sugar cane back to Nantes for processing.
My first morning in Nantes, I headed on foot to the Talensac market, which turned out to be a combination indoor-outdoor market familiar to those who frequent Cleveland's West Side Market. Produce was artfully arrayed in outdoor booths, operated by vendors who purchased it each day from area farmers, while the indoor areas were devoted to meat, cheeses, and all kinds of fish.
Despite not speaking French, I quickly learned that September was sardine season and bountiful mounds of glistening sardines were among the fish displayed. I took that hint and ordered them for dinner that night and was delighted that I had. Later, while exploring the city, I even found the popular sardines replicated in candy at the shop of Nantes candy maker.
Sardines made of candy look like the real thing.
See them among the market photos that accompany this story.
This scallops recipe employs the lovely Muscadet white wine we drank throughout out explorations among the chateaux of the Loire Valley, which I hope you'll enjoy reading about over the next few months. I'll also be telling you more about my traveling companions, an international group of journalists hailing from China, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Moscow.

The recipe is great for company because  it can be done in advance, for finishing just before you sit down to eat. It's adapted from Anne Willan's amazing "Country Cooking of France." 

(Sauteed scallops with spices)
Serves 6 as first course
1-1/2 pounds sea scallops
1/4 cup flour seasoned with salt and black pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more to tatse
4 Tablespoons butter
1 large onion finely shopped
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Salt and black pepper
2 Tablespoons Cognac
2 to 3 Tablespoons browned bread crumbs (see below)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
6 scallop shells or individual flameproof baking dishes
Wash scallops, pat dry and discard tough, crescent-shaped muscle adhering to one side. If scallops are large, slice them in half horizontally to create 2 disks. In a bowl, mix together the seasoned flour, curry powder and cayenne pepper. Add scallops and toss to coat.
Melt 3 Tablespoons butter in deep frying pan over high heat until foaming. Add scallops and sauteed until brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and brown other side, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Lift out and divide evenly among scallop shells or baking dishes. For sauce, add remaining 1 Tablespoon butter to pan. Reduce heat to medium, add onion, and saute until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Pour in wine and simmer until reduced by about half. Stir in tomatoes, season with salt and black pepper and cook just until tomatoes are pulpy, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in Cognac,  taste, and adjust seasoning adding more curry powder and cayenne if you like. Spoon sauce over scallops. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and melted butter. Scallops may be prepared to this point 6 hours ahead and refrigerated. To finih,  heat broiler. Broil scallops about 4 inches from heat until very hot and browned, taking care not to overcook them or they will toughen. Serve at once.

Brown bread crumbs
Use sliced white bread. Discard crusts and toast bread in oven at 350 degrees until golden brown, 10 to 15 ninutes. Let cool and work toast to crumbs in a food processor or blender. They may be stored in an airtight container for 3 months. 
Fresh sardines glisten at a fish monger's stall.

Freshly caught crabs, shrimp and scallops vie for attention.

A market vendor shows me a charente melon - the first I think I'd ever seen.

Goat and sheep's cheeses are arranged for easy selection at the Talensac Market in Nantes.


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