Mara Martin is one of the most precious friends I have gained through cooking. When she and her husband Maurizio were teenagers, they borrowed money to buy Da Fiore, an old wine bar in Venice, and proceeded to transform it into one of Italy’s most sought-after seafood restaurants. They had no professional experience of food or of any other kind, but they had taste, cooking’s principal root from which all other qualities germinate.
Mara’s dishes are rigorously based on the superb seafood caught in Venice’s portion of the Adriatic, and the preparations are by and large those of the understated, light-handed Venetian tradition. She doesn’t shrink from updating them, however, when she finds a promising new union of ingredients, as in this combination of scallops, which are local, and broccoli, which originates in the south of Italy. A small migration to Venice of families from Abruzzi and Apulia in central and southern Italy has supplied customers at the Rialto market for produce of their regions—produce such as broccoli, which has consequently found a place on Venetian tables.
Mara has a generous hand with butter, which may distress those who think olive oil is the only cooking medium for Italian seafood. But it is butter here that does what needs to be done, tenderly reconcile the reticent mildness of the thin scallop slices with the sourish, vegetal quality of broccoli. It is impossible to imagine a seafood sauce with a blend of flavors more smooth or so ravishing. I had the pleasure of letting Mara make this with Long Island bay scallops in my Watermill kitchen when she and Maurizio came to visit me in the Hamptons one summer. And I discovered that she was using something she had forgetfully omitted from the recipe she had written out for me, thyme. Ah, those great Italian cooks— never question their taste; just take a second look at their recipes.