“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 has 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
- 20-24 littleneck clams or cockles, rinsed
- 1 pound cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 3 whole garlic cloves, lightly smashed the side of a large knife
- 1 handful flat leaf parsley leaves plus 2 tablespoons chopped
- 1 fresh red chili pepper, chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Pinch saffron threads
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 cup fregola sarda
- 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.
- 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).
- 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
- 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).
- Spoon the fregola sarda into individual bowls and ladle with the clams and broth. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley.