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Friday, June 13, 2008

Bivalves Reign Supreme During Father's Day Week

I have a Father's Day recommendation: visit One for the Table, a web site devoted to "Food, Politics, and Love"--a good mix of interests in my book--and read the Father's Day essays.

For these dozen writers the memory of their fathers and grandfathers is forever tied to food: eggs over easy, mackerel, crustaceans, deli food, apple pie and caviar... Amy Ephron, who created this beautifully written site, was kind enough to include the post I published in February with Frank and Michael's remembrance of my cooking their favorite dishes: rosemary chickens and flourless chocolate cakes.

If my sons write another essay and talk about my favorite food, I'm certain they'd focus on my love of shellfish. I would eat lobster, crab, oysters, scallops, clams and mussels regularly if anyone else in the family liked them. Since I prefer to cook what my family wants to eat, I stick with beef, chicken, and pork.

When I went to the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers' Market, I hadn't intended to buy any shellfish, but talking with Rob at Carlsbad Aquafarm, I couldn't resist. Michelle was at Sundance for the month. Frank has his own apartment. Michael was working late. I was going to be eating dinner alone anyway. Besides which, this was Father's Day-week, so a little shellfish indulgence could be tolerated.

I bought clams and mussels and had one of those exceptionally agreeable Home Alone evenings. They were deliciously tender and sweet. I was very happy.

For those of you who don't care for clams or mussels, please indulge me and read the recipes. There's always the off-chance that you didn't realize your father or grandfather loves bivavles and now you'll know how to prepare them.

If you get the urge to cook bivalves for Father's Day, fresh shellfish is available at Santa Monica Seafood. Carlsbad Aquafarm will be at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market on Saturday. If you're in New York on the Upper West Side, stop by Fairway Market or Citarella.

Steamed Mussels

Yield 2 servings
Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds live mussels (washed, "beards" removed)
2 slices bacon (finely chopped)
2 shallots (peeled, sliced)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, sliced)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, stems removed, finely chopped)
2 tablespoons butter
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

In a large sauce pan sauté the bacon, shallots, garlic, and parsley with a little olive oil until lightly browned. Add 1/4 cup water and the mussels. Cover and cook on high heat for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium for 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that haven't opened.

Serve the mussels and broth in bowls with a fresh baguette.

The mussels can be removed from their shells and served with the broth as a soup, topped with croutons.

Clams with Pasta

Any pasta goes well with clams. Usually I like spaghetti, ziti, or shells, but for this meal I used a small pasta called tubetti. The effect was very good. The pasta was so small, the clam flavor dominated each bite.

Yield 2 servings
Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds live clams (washed)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, leaves only, finely chopped)
2 bacon slices (finely chopped)
1/4 cup corn kernels (fresh not canned)
3 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
2 mushrooms, brown or shiitake (washed, dried, sliced thin)
2 tablespoons onion or shallot (peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 box De Cecco pasta (tubetti, ziti, spaghetti, or shells)
1 cup pasta water
1/2 cup chicken stock (homemade) or water
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Put the clams in a large saucepan with 1/4 cup of water, cover, boil on high heat for 5 minutes, remove all the clams that have opened, continue cooking another 5 minutes, discard any clams that have not opened, and reserve the clam juice. Strain the juice to remove any grit or shell fragments.

The clams are delicious by themselves and no one would blame you for eating them all at this point. If you have the discipline to continue on, you'll be rewarded with a superlative pasta dish.

Boil 4 quarts of salted water, add the pasta, stir frequently, taste after 8 minutes, and drain. Remember to capture 1 cup of pasta water to use in the sauce.

Drizzle olive oil in the saucepan and sauté the parsley, bacon, corn, garlic, mushrooms, and shallots until lightly browned, add the butter, pasta water, and chicken stock--if you don't have stock, use plain water--season with pepper. Hold off adding sea salt until the very end. The clams are salty, as is the pasta water.

Reduce the sauce by half, add the pasta, toss to coat well, taste and adjust the seasoning (for more sweetness add butter and chicken stock; sea salt and pepper if needed) remove to a bowl and top with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano.

Variations

For more heat add pepper flakes or a dusting of cayenne.

Substitute cilantro for parsley and add grated fresh ginger.

Add quartered cherry tomatoes and roughly chopped spinach leaves to the sauté.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

From Father to Son: A Dinner Menu

I enjoy cooking so much, I was happy when my older son Frank asked if I could help him plan a dinner he was going to cook for a friend.

The best meal is one that starts with great ingredients, which means shopping at farmers' markets and specialty shops. Supermarkets are fine for household supplies but only a few--like Gelson's, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Fairway Market, Canyon Market--carry quality produce and meat.

Since Frank will be in San Francisco for the weekend, I suggest he and his friend go to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Saturday morning. Located on the Embarcadero at Market, he'll find premium vegetables, fruits, cheeses, olives, freshly baked breads, desserts, and flowers. The market is open from 8:00am until 2:00pm. If they go early they'll avoid the lunch-time crowds.

While they walk around the market enjoying the cool breezes off the Bay, they can pick up snacks from Hog Island Oyster Company, a muffin from the Downtown Bakery, or sample cheeses from Andante Dairy. The market is definitely an eat-as-you-shop kind of place.

Because I know Frank won't want to spend more time in the kitchen than necessary, the menu I'm suggesting relies on quick-and-easy techniques. And since I know he understands the importance of cleaning as he cooks--a meal is so much more pleasurable if the kitchen is clean when the cooking is finished--I've tried to minimize the number of pots and pans required.

Appetizers

Serve a plate of 2-3 cheeses, ones that contrast with each other. A Triple Cream (soft) for example and a Comte (firm). Tasting cheeses at the market is a good way to find the ones you like. Olives, fresh fruit, a baguette, and wine all go well with a cheese.

Putting together the appetizer plate will take only a few minutes. Frank and his friend can snack on the appetizers while he prepares dinner.

Salad

For a salad something simple: fresh arugula tossed with crushed roasted hazelnuts and dressed with olive oil and reduced balsamic dressing, seasoned with a little sea salt and pepper.

Or a tomato and avocado salad with a touch of olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper.

Pasta with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese

Yield 2 servings
Time 15 minutes

Ziti or penne takes about 10 minutes to cook in salted, boiling water. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. A cup of the pasta water is a key ingredient. When the pasta is strained, put a heat-proof container under the strainer and capture a cup of pasta water.

Ingredients

1/2 box of De Cecco pasta (ziti or penne)
1/2 pound mushrooms, brown or shiitake (washed, dried, thinly sliced longitudinally)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, leaves only, finely chopped)
1 teaspoon sweet butter (unsalted)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup pasta water
1 tablespoon Kosher salt for the pasta water
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Boil 4 quarts of water with the Kosher salt, add the pasta, stir and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir every couple of minutes to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Cook until al dente. Strain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water, return the pasta to the pot, drizzle with olive oil, stir well, and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

In a frying pan, sauté the garlic, mushrooms, and parsley until lightly browned, add the butter and pasta water and simmer, reducing the liquid by half, then add the pasta and toss to coat with the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Variations

Add to the sauté, quartered cherry tomatoes and roughly chopped up spinach leaves.

Sauté fresh corn kernels ( 1/4 cup) and shallots (1 tablespoon) with the mushrooms and parsley.

Chicken Fillets with Parsley-Bacon Topping

Yield 2 servings
Time 10 minutes

Buy either chicken tenders--which are pricey--or skinless, boneless breasts and cut them the long way so each breast makes two 1/2" thick fillets.

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts (washed, cut into 1/2" thick fillets) or 4 chicken tenders (washed)
2 slices of bacon (finely chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped)
1 garlic clove (peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 avocado (peeled, roughly chopped)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Season the breasts with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Pour a little olive oil into a frying pan and sauté the bacon and parsley on a low flame. Use a fork to break up the pieces and cook until lightly browned. Remove and drain on a paper towel.

Drizzle olive oil into the frying pan and season with sea salt and pepper. Get the pan hot on a medium flame. Add the chicken. The fillets cook quickly because they are thin. Lightly brown on each side.

Top with the sautéd bacon-parsley bits and garnish with chopped avocado on the side.

Salt Steamed Broccoli or Spinach

Yield 2 servings
Time 10 minutes (broccoli) or 5 minutes (spinach)

Ingredients

1 bunch broccoli or spinach
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
Olive oil

Method

Wash the broccoli and cut off the florets. If you're using spinach, wash well to get rid of the grit, remove the stems and discard. Put a steamer in a pot, add the water and salt, bring to a boil, add the broccoli florets or spinach, and cover. Steam the broccoli for 10 minutes or the spinach for 5 minutes.

Transfer to a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with the chicken.

Dessert

Good fruit is available now at the farmers' market: cherries, apricots, early grapes, pluots, cantaloupe, and lots of berries. A plate of fresh fruit and a small cake from the farmers' market would make a delicious dessert. Or, with very little effort, baked pluots and apricots, coupled with ice cream or yogurt, make a beautiful finish to a meal.

Baked Pluots and Apricots

Yield 2 servings
Time
30 minutes

Ingredients

2 apricots
2 pluots or plums (washed, cut in half, pits removed)
Raw sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the halved apricots and pluots on a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet, dust with raw sugar, and bake for 30 minutes until softened.

Serve with ice cream or yogurt.