Over the narrow 3-mile-long Bayfront Parkway bridge

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…past the pelican convention

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…lies Pensacola Beach. The kitschy, touristy part of Pensacola. It’ll probably be crawling with Spring Break-ers in a few weeks. Nothing to see here. We drove a bit further west toward Fort Pickens and were rewarded with a secluded, glistening white beach straddling the road; Gulf of Mexico on one side, Pensacola Bay on the other. We strolled along the shore, skipping stones and picking up shells. It was cool and breezy but the sun was shining bright.

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Back on the ‘mainland’ we explored downtown Pensacola. Ruled at one time by Spain, France, Great Britain, the Confederacy and the United States, Pensacola earned the nickname “City of Five Flags.” I’ve always been fascinated with culture and history. The town’s historic district was especially intriguing – lots of interesting Spanish and French-influenced architecture. I learned Pensacola is celebrating 450 years – established in 1559, it’s deemed “America’s First Settlement.” On February 19th [uuf, a missed opportunity], King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia took part in commemorating the anniversary!

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Downtown Pensacola reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of New Orleans’ French Quarter, with its wrought-iron balconies, taverns, Baroque and Creole-style buildings, and greenery abound. When we got there the town was preparing for a Mardi Gras parade later that evening. Some people were dressing up in costumes, decorating floats, and hanging banners on storefronts. If fresh seafood weren’t waiting for us, it would’ve been fun to plunk ourselves at the tavern, grab a local beer and some oysters and hang around for the festivities.

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[above right: Vietnam War Memorial replica a short drive from downtown]

My last full day in Florida; no finer way to spend it.

But my trip wouldn’t be complete without one final trip to Joe Patti’s. Today the enormous sea scallops caught our eye. At $6.99 per pound – a scandalous bargain – we purchased ten straight away, as if the price were going to jump in the next five minutes. Hey, with inflation** these days, it’s entirely possible!

After that serendipitous find, we rewarded ourselves with a glass each of Shiraz. A quick recipe search brought us pesto marinated scallops. We tweaked the marinade a bit by upping the basil – from his balcony garden – and adding fresh rosemary; the final dish to be served with pasta and broccoli.

The pesto was whirred together, added to the scallops and popped in the fridge to marinate for a few hours. To pass the time we played a few rounds of Speed Scrabble – a game a friend of his picked up from some little old ladies. I may have lost in point totals, but my words were way better than his.

Back in the kitchen, supper threw itself together gracefully. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was something else. The broccoli was cut into bite-size florets and steamed. The pasta was tossed into heavily salted boiling water, swimming around the pot until perfectly al dente. The scallops arranged in a pan, which sputtered at the heat and quickly began to caramelize, the marinade bubbling up around them. At the last minute everything was tossed together and served with glasses of a 2007 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay.

Shall we?

Pesto-Marinated Scallop & Broccoli Linguine [serves 2-3]

Printable recipe.

10 jumbo sea scallops, ~2 ounces each, rinsed and patted dry

3/4 c fresh basil leaves 1 T fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped

1/4 c pine nuts

1 large garlic clove, coarsley chopped

juice of 1 lemon

1/2 t salt a pinch

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 c olive oil [preferably not extra virgin, to not overpower the other flavors]

about 1/2 to 3/4 box linguine, cooked to al dente in salted water

1 small crown broccoli, cut into florets, about 1 c

In a food processor, combine basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Blitz until finely chopped, scraping sides with a rubber scraper. Add olive oil in a steady stream [if possible; if not, pour in half, pulse, and repeat with the remainder]. Blitz further until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. [Pesto can be made in advance and refrigerated 1-2 days.]

In a bowl or shallow dish, combine pesto and scallops; toss to evenly coat. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate scallops in the fridge for 3-5 hours.

Heat a nonstick skillet to medium-high. Arrange scallops in the skillet – reserving marinade – and cook on one side until golden, about 7 minutes. Flip and cook until scallops are opaque, 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

In the same skillet, add marinade and bring to a slight boil over medium-high heat, stirring often; about 4-5 minutes. Turn off heat and add cooked linguine and steamed broccoli, tossing to coat thoroughly. Transfer to serving dishes, top with scallops and serve immediately.

A squirrel bread original.

The plump scallops were meltingly tender and bursting with flavor; the satisfying pasta a bright complement. A sophisticated supper to cap off my visit. Not as dramatic a presentation*** as one might hope for, but still pretty enough to elicit sighs and thorough plate-scraping. It was really something.

*Only white-hot Fabio could get away with that. Still waiting to watch this season of Top Chef!

**For instance: Roquefort’s 300% inflation. It’s now selling for $44.99 per pound at Whole Foods. Asinine.

***So good in fact that I couldn’t be bothered with the camera.

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