As much as we consider chestnuts a classic American winter treat—think roasted chestnuts sold on Manhattan's streets at Christmas, Nat King Cole songs, and the like—they're a true old-world ingredient. At his Select Oyster Bar in Boston, seafood expert Michael Serpa serves up fish dishes with Mediterranean flair. So for him, pairing diver scallops and chestnut puree with a splash of tangy blood orange vinaigrette was a no-brainer.

"Chestnuts have a deep, rich, warm flavor," Serpa says. "And I love how they pair with citrus, which adds acid for balance. Blood orange adds a floral note as well."

Pan-seared, caramelized scallops bring their own natural sweetness into play, while browned butter boosts richness and fresh thyme adds herbal brightness.

The dish is something Serpa has done for special menus. But for the home cook, the advantage is clear: It's a fancy-seeming dish with exquisite flavor balance that's a breeze to put together, letting you spend more time with your company than stoveside.

His advice on cooking with chestnuts: "They soak up a lot of liquid, so you'll use more than you'd expect." We found equal parts milk and chestnuts made a puree that wasn't too thick. Try Serpa's original dish this month at Select in Boston's Back Bay.

SEARED SCALLOPS WITH CHESTNUT PUREEHands-on: 15 min. Total: 30 min.Blood orange vinaigrette brightens this simple dish.

1 cup packaged precooked chestnuts1/2 cup crushed packaged precooked chestnuts1 cup whole milk1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided2 1/2 tablespoons fresh blood orange juice1 tablespoon red wine vinegar1 tablespoon olive oil16 diver sea scallops (about 1½ pounds)1 tablespoon canola oil2 tablespoons butter1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Place 1 cup chestnuts on a baking sheet; bake at 375° for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Place ½ cup crushed chestnuts on a baking sheet; bake at 375° for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside.

3. Combine toasted whole chestnuts and milk in a blender; process until smooth. Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add chestnut mixture, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper to pan; cook 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. Keep warm.

4. Combine juice, vinegar, and olive oil in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

5. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle scallops with remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add canola oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add scallops, working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding; cook 3 minutes or until browned on both sides and done, turning once. Pour off any oil. Reduce heat to medium. Add butter; cook 2 minutes or until browned. Stir in thyme.

6. Place 5 tablespoons puree on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 4 scallops. Drizzle each with 1½ teaspoons butter mixture and 1 tablespoon juice mixture. Top each with 2 tablespoons toasted crushed chestnuts.

SERVES 4CALORIES 282; FAT 12.8g (sat 5.6g, mono 5.1g, poly 1.2g); PROTEIN 11g; CARB 31g; FIBER 4g; CHOL 36mg; IRON 1mg; SODIUM 554mg; CALC 91mg

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