bay laurel pound cake

When I first visited San Francisco, I was walking down a shady little avenue somewhere and looked up. I was under a fragrant canopy of trees, all with dark, shiny green leaves I recognized as bay laurel. Amazing! My whole life I’d only seen those leaves preciously packed in small glass jars in the spice aisle, and here were literally millions of them just growing wild on the street.

At the time, I had a 4-inch pot in my apartment back home containing a struggling wisp of a bay laurel plant. It was a sickly skinny stick with maybe a handful of leaves on it when I bought it. One by one, the leaves withered away and then the plant died. I tried a few more times to grow my own little tree as a houseplant, each time while living in various places that had lots of things going for them but for the unfortunate lack of a Mediterranean climate.

I’ve since learned that the plant I was trying to grow was the not Umbellularia californica I saw in abundance in that state, but Laurus nobilis - same species, different variety. Both kinds thrive in the kind of climate where olives, rosemary and artichokes also thrive (as I’m absolutely sure I would, too).  [Read more...]

clams in crazy water

“What’s crazy water got to do with cooking and anyway, who wants to eat fish in water?” ~ Marcella Hazan, Marcella Cucina

From where I’m sitting at my desk, I can hear the sound of water streaming in the room below me. It’s pleasant; Zen-like. It’s a gurgling fountain sound you’d hear while reclining on a heated, padded table with eye pillows on your face, in a dark room while aromatic oils are being soothed onto your stressed out body. SNAP! 

Actually, the sound is coming from my basement, which is not an organic spa retreat; just an ordinary partially finished one with a brand-spanking-new-just-installed-this-morning four-hundred-dollar sump pump. Hot and stone and massage are way nicer to say than sump. Or pump.

Isn’t it crazy that water is at once the beautiful blue sea or babbling brook, the very thing we want to escape to, and also a monstrous enemy when it’s flowing like a river into your house and you need it to be gone?

My heart goes out to you and anyone you know suffering from the effects of stormy flood waters. It’s happened to me before, in another house and it’s awful. This time - thank god – there was no flooding in our home; just an overwhelmed drain system that threatened to cause trouble into the wee hours last night. The trickling sound is the water table getting restored to normal. Thank you, sump pump. French drain – you too.

Anyway, there is the coincidence of my planning to write about these clams in Neapolitan crazy water – acqua pazza, as they say – and all the watery weather in my life today.

Marcella writes “water is what brings together all the seasoning ingredients, the tomatoes, garlic, parsley, chili pepper, salt and olive oil.” So simple. It’s the beauty of a brodo, or Italian broth.


Since the clams and crazy water come together to make a beautiful soupy-zuppa, I decided to fortify it with fregola (sometimes spelled fregula), a special type of pasta from Sardinia. I love the artisanal pasta produced by Rustichella D’Abruzzo; the fregola sarda they make is made from semolina. It’s much like large grains of couscous, only toasted. It’s got this great, toothy texture and sweet, nutty flavor, perfect for rustic broths like this one.

Recipe inspired by Fish in Crazy Water in Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan

clams in crazy water

clams in crazy water

Ingredients

  1. 20-24 littleneck clams or cockles, rinsed
  2. 1 pound cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  3. 3 whole garlic cloves, lightly smashed the side of a large knife
  4. 1 handful flat leaf parsley leaves plus 2 tablespoons chopped
  5. 1 fresh red chili pepper, chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
  6. 1 teaspoon salt
  7. Pinch saffron threads
  8. Extra virgin olive oil
  9. 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  10. 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  11. Juice of 1 lemon
  12. 1 cup fregola sarda

Instructions

  1. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Add a teaspoon sea salt and add the clams. Swish them around a little then let them soak one hour. Lift the clams out of the water, leaving any sand or grit that settled on the bottom of the bowl.
  2. Set aside 1 cup of the tomatoes; put the rest in a saucepan with the garlic, parsley leaves, chili, salt, saffron and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a slow bubbling simmer and cook 30 minutes. Pour the broth through a strainer set over a bowl of small saucepan, (discard the vegetables).
  3. Cook the fregola sarda in boiling salted water - in my experience it can take longer to cook than other types of small pasta before becoming tender – about 20 minutes. Drain and toss with 1 tablespoon oil; cover and keep warm
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a saute pan large enough to hold all the clams (12 inches diameter should do it); add the garlic and shallot and cook until fragrant and sizzling. Toss in the clams, reserved tomatoes, broth and lemon juice. Cover the pan and turn up the heat to high and cook until the clams open, about 5 minutes. Discard any clams that haven't opened. Taste the broth to see if it needs salt (or more chili).
  5. Spoon the fregola sarda into individual bowls and ladle with the clams and broth. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
http://familystylefood.com/2014/05/clams-in-crazy-water/

pasta with cutting-board parsley pesto

 “If you should ask me to name a dish that a bit of parsley would fail to improve, I might be startled as by an impertinence.” – Angelo Pellegrini; The Food Lover’s Garden

“The food processor separates you completely from the pleasures of physicality and from the sensual delight of working with your hands. ” - Viana La Place; The Unplugged Kitchen

This week felt like turning a corner. I can almost see the shabby coattails of the uninvited guest who’s been hanging around for months, flapping in the spring breeze as she scurries down the sidewalk of my street, around the block and then far away.

I haven’t told you this before, but for too many days this winter I’ve felt dreadful – I mean literally full of dread. We all go through stressful stuff sometimes that can be…well, draining. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling, and most of the time things turn around sooner rather than later. You recover and pick yourself right up.

But for me, this time it went on for so many weeks which turned into months,  that my body developed an imbalance.


I didn’t believe it at first. I mean, I’ve been aware of nutrition, healthy cooking and lifestyle choices for almost half my life. But no matter how much fresh, whole, naturally vitamin-packed food I was feeding myself and all the yoga breathing I tried to stop my heart racing and bumping in my chest, stress hormones kept up in an endless cycle, leaching my reserves, tapping out all the good stuff I had in storage. Drained. And feeling like I might die.

I’ve always believed that food is the best delivery system for nutrients – better than a bunch of pills, supplements or protein shakes. Eating whole food is the optimal way to stay healthy, but sometimes we need a little help. Now that I’ve had a number of doctor visits, tests and vials of blood drawn that ruled out serious disease, I’m on my way back to myself again. I’m taking a few supplements to replenish what I’m missing, and finally feeling ready to start a new chapter.  [Read more...]