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/

Sicilian Lifeguard Squid with Couscous

I have one thing to ask of you  - please don’t be squeamish about eating squid. I know these bottomfeeding creatures look a bit freaky with their tentacles and all, but squid deserve a more elevated place on your daily menu.

I’ve compiled a short list of good-to-know facts about these tasty cephalopods to help you in your journey toward squiddy-liciousness. Squid are:

* Cheap! They cost less per pound than seafood, poultry or red meat
* Low in fat, high in lean protein
* FAST to cook – in less than 3 minutes
* Hornier than Hugh Hefner; they have frenzied mating orgies

Mario Batali’s recipe for Two-Minute Calamari, Sicilian Lifeguard Style appears in his Babbo cookbook, which I was compelled to make the other night. I’m not clear on whether this recipe is acutally traditional in Sicily; I’m thinking Mario was going for a sexy title. He explains that pine nuts, currants, capers and chiles put a “hot and sour Arabic kiss” on the squid. Sounds good to me.

Later, I Googled around and found Melissa Clark’s version of the recipe, which turned out to be very much how I had made it, sans currants (maybe Sicilian in character, but not so appealing to me), and including spinach since I had some.

Sicilian Lifeguard Squid with Couscous

Serving Size: serves 4 - 6

Ingredients

  1. 2 cups canned diced or crushed tomatoes
  2. 3 gloves garlic
  3. Handful fresh basil leaves
  4. 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  5. 1 large shallot or small onion, thinly sliced
  6. 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  7. 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  8. 1/4 cup capers in brine, drained
  9. 1 1/2 pounds cleaned squid bodies and tentacles, sliced 1/2-inch wide
  10. 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  11. Salt and fresh ground black pepper
  12. 3 scallions, chopped
  13. 2 cups cooked Israeli pearl couscous

Instructions

  1. Puree the tomatoes, garlic and basil in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  2. Heat the oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, pine nuts and red pepper and cook until the nuts are golden, stirring frequently; about 4 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes to the pan and bring to a simmer before adding the capers and squid. Cover and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, just until the squid is completely opaque. Stir in the spinach until it wilts. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed and toss in the scallions.
  4. Serve over warm couscous.
http://familystylefood.com/2010/04/sicilian-lifeguard-squid-with-couscous/

Julia Child’s Bouillabaisse Recipe

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I’m caught up in Julia Child fever {so much so that I’ve started a new blog – visit Dinner with Julia and follow me as I dive into Julia’s recipes}; the movie Julie & Julia is opening this weekend and I’m not ashamed to say that I will be standing in line for a ticket. I’ve read that Meryl Streep has captured the best of what we love about Julia, from her warbly, exuberant voice to her healthy physical lust for her husband.

Thinking about my Julia Child moment had me plucking my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the shelf for a little sit-down time. I wanted to make a recipe from the book, but I had trouble conjuring that spark of hunger that usually makes me rush to the kitchen to cook.

Is it because some of the recipes in Mastering are stuck in a bit of a time warp?

Browsing through the book, I see recipes that speak to another time, a time before crème fraîche became a staple in the grocery store and we knew not to cook a piece of pork to within an inch of its life: cold chicken aspic decorated with slivers of canned pimiento, veal Prince Orloff and crepes filled with boiled, canned pineapple.  In my mind I draw a caricature of the 1960′s American housewife that Julia was writing for – a perfectly coiffed woman about to throw a dinner party in her sprawling suburban ranch house, wearing a bullet bra, Jackie O skirt suit and smoking a long cigarette, like a character from the television show Mad Men.

But in between the thick, cream-colored pages of Julia’s tome are a multitude of other classic recipes and techniques that will never go out of style or fail to please – her precise directions for making homemade mayonnaise, perfect rolled omelets and puffy souffles are what make Mastering the Art of French Cooking stand alone on the cookbook shelf.

I chose to make the bouillabaisse (page 52) the other day, along with a rouille sauce to smear on crusty toasted bread.

Bouillabaisse is a Provençal fish soup, and Julia stresses the importance of keeping it simple; the broth is fortified with lots of seafood shells and trimmings (available for less than a dollar a pound at your fish counter) and flavored with the typical flavors of the region: garlic, saffron, olive oil and tomatoes.

The soup was outstanding and I like how it had something for everyone at my table (picky children among them)  – delicious broth, different kinds of fish and seafood, and a big hunk of bread to soak up every drop in the bowl.

The simplicity and authentic taste of this recipe is what Julia Child is all about to me. It also defines how I love to cook.

Julia says it best:

This is the kind of food I had fallen in love with: not trendy, souped-up fantasies, just something very good to eat….the ingredients have been carefully selected and beautifully and knowingly prepared. Or, in the words of the famous gastronome Curnonsky, “Food that tastes of what it is”. (from My Life in France)

Here’s to you, Julia!

Julia Child’s Bouillabaisse Recipe

Serving Size: Serves a table of 6

Serve the bouillabaisse with toasted bread and rouille on the side.

Ingredients

  1. 1/2 cup olive oil
  2. 1 cup each chopped onion and leek
  3. 4 cloves mashed garlic
  4. 2 or 3 large, ripe tomatoes
  5. 2 1/2 quarts water
  6. Fresh herb sprigs: thyme, parsley, fennel fronds and basil (in any combination)
  7. 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  8. 1 tablespoon sea salt
  9. 3 - 4 pounds fish heads, bones, trimmings, shrimp shells
  10. 1 1/2 pounds each peeled shrimp (use the shells for the stock); wild cod, halibut and/or sole cut into chunks, and debearded, scrubbed mussels or clams
  11. Toasted rustic bread
  12. For the Rouille:
  13. 1 roasted and peeled red bell pepper
  14. 1 roasted hot red chile pepper or ground cayenne pepper to taste
  15. 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  16. 1 small peeled garlic clove
  17. 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs or finely chopped almonds
  18. 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
  19. Fine sea salt, about 1/2 teaspoon or to taste
  20. 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

    For the soup:
  1. Heat the oil in a tall pot (I used an 8 quart stockpot) over medium heat; add the onion and leek and cook gently until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute until fragrant, then add the tomatoes, water, herbs, saffron, salt and fish bones. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat so that the broth bubbles slowly without boiling.
  2. Cook 30 minutes, then strain the broth into a large bowl or another pot and discard the solids.
  3. Pour the broth back into the stockpot and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink, a minute or two. Add the rest of the fish and shellfish, cover and simmer until the mussels or clams open. Taste the soup and add more salt and freshly ground pepper if needed.
  4. For the Rouille:
  5. Puree everything except for the olive oil in a food processor until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil while processing to form a paste.
http://familystylefood.com/2009/08/julia-childs-bouillabaisse-recipe/