Fish Tacos with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Yes, you read the post’s title correctly. Today I’m sharing a recipe for fish tacos. As I’ve said on several of your blogs, I rarely make tacos. I don’t think it worth the effort just to make 2 or 3 tacos for my dinner. I still feel that way but at the time this post was written, my chile plants were producing at a rate that rivaled my eggplant crop.. If only my tomato plants had been so competitive.

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Fried Fish Tacos - 1

This Fish is Fried

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Well, it was far too humid to try to dry the peppers and without a dehydrator, I was loath to turn on the oven, no matter how low the temperature would be set.. So, I cooked some, pickled others, and added a few to the cherry bomb peppers that I was preserving. But the chiles kept coming and Lucy can only eat so many. Thanks to a couple blogging friends, I decided to make tomatillo salsa. (That recipe follows this one.)

Well, the salsa did make a dent — albeit a small one — in the chile inventory but what to do with it? I was stumbling around the grocery, trying to figure out what to prepare when I saw that there was a sale on pollock. That’s all I needed to make up my mind. Fish tacos would be on the night’s menu.

Since my tomatillo salsa was rather smooth, I felt that the taco needed something more crispy than shredded lettuce. That’s why the shredded cabbage was included but you should use whichever you prefer. The same is true for the tortillas. As much as I like corn tortillas, I bought flour because I felt that corn tortillas would just about disintegrate by the time I was done snapping photos. Oh, to be a better — read faster — photographer. And, by the way, hats off to those who would make their own tortillas for a dinner for one.

To prepare the fish for breading, the fillets were cut into strips about 3 inches (8 cm) long. Seasoned corn starch was used to coat the strips, just as was done when soft shell crabs were prepared several weeks ago. Once coated, the strips were dipped in a mixture of eggs, milk, and Sriracha. From there, they were coated in Panko bread crumbs and reserved. Easy peasy.

A note about the ingredients. Few amounts are listed because they will depend upon the number of tacos to be prepared and your own taste preferences. More cornstarch and breadcrumbs will be needed if you’re feeding 4, for example, than if you are preparing tacos for 1.

Lastly, for those avoiding fried foods, I’ve included instructions for baking the fish, as well as for frying.

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Fish Tacos - Baked 1

Tacos with Baked Fish

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Fish Taco Recipe

Ingredients

  • Fish fillets cut into strips (see Notes)
  • corn starch seasoned with paprika, ground chipotle, cumin, salt, and pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp Sriracha sauce, more or less to taste
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • tortillas
  • roasted tomatillo salsa – recipe follows
  • shredded cabbage
  • diced tomato (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)
  • diced red onion (optional)
  • limes, quartered

Directions

  1. Set up a breading station:
    • In the first dish, place corn starch seasoned with paprika, ground chipotle, cumin, salt & pepper to taste.
    • In the second, combine and beat the eggs, milk, and Sriracha.
    • In the 3rd dish, add enough Panko breadcrumbs to coat the pieces of fish.
  2. To fry:
    • Add enough oil to the pan for a depth of 1/2 inch (1.5 cm).
    • Heat over med-high heat to 360˚ (180˚C).
    • Place breaded strips into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.
    • Remove from oil, place on paper towels, season with salt immediately.
  3. To bake:
    • Pre-heat oven to 400˚ F (200˚ C)
    • Place breaded strips on to a rack placed atop a baking sheet.
    • Bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes, turning them over midway through the bake.
    • Remove to a platter and season with salt.
  4. To assemble the tacos:
    • Over med-high heat, warm the tortillas on a grill pan, cast iron fry pan, skillet, or barbecue grill until heated through.
    • Create a taco using a tortilla, pieces of fish, a couple tbsp of salsa, some shredded cabbage, and a squeeze of lime.
      • Sour cream, onions, and tomatoes may be added, according to personal tastes.
  5. Garnish with lime quarters and serve.

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Fried Fish Tacos - 2

More Fried Fish Tacos

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Notes

Although I used pollock here, feel free to use any white fish. Cod, hake, or tilapia come to mind, although mahi mahi, halibut, or even tuna would be very good, too. You may want to adjust the seasoning depending upon the fish you’ve selected.

Roast Chicken Tacos 2Fish not your thing? Tacos are a great way to re-purpose leftover roast chicken. Use a fork to pull apart the chicken meat and warm it quickly in a frypan with a little butter. Once heated, use it to build your taco with a bit of tomatillo salsa and whatever other fixins you like: shredded cabbage/lettuce, sour cream, diced onion, diced tomato, fresh cilantro, and/or a bit of shredded cheese would work just fine.

Roast Chicken with Tomatillo SalsaDid I say roast chicken leftovers? Well, first you have to roast that bird. Do it however you wish. Mine was spatchcocked and seasoned with plenty of herbs, lemon juice, and olive oil before roasting. Be sure to have the salsa nearby so that you can generously spoon some atop the chicken once served.

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Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Recipe

I have 2 blogging buddies to thank for this post, Kathryn of Another Foodie Blogger and MJ of MJ’s Kitchen. Had it not been for Kathryn, I never would have bought tomatillos, and MJ is the Queen of Chiles. Now, this salsa and serving suggestions may not be exact duplicates of their recipes — shower them with all the praise and I’ll shoulder any blame — but I was certainly inspired by them. If you’re looking for some inspiration, by all means check out these 2 wonderful blogs.

Ingredients

  • 6 tomatillos, husked and washed (see Notes)
  • 4 cayenne chilies, tops trimmed (see Notes)
  • 1 chile de agua, top trimmed
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic
  • small sweet onion or half of a large, cut in half
  • olive oil
  • cilantro, to taste
  • lime juice, to taste
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400˚F (205˚C).
  2. Place tomatillos, all the chilies, garlic, and onion into a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and spread on a baking sheet in an even layer. Roast for 30 minutes.
  3. Once cooled, place all the roasted ingredients into a food processor, along with cilantro and the juice of 1 lime.
  4. Pulse the ingredients several times until the salsa is the consistency you prefer. Midway through, taste and season with salt and pepper. Add more cilantro or lime juice, if needed.
  5. Refrigerate until needed.

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fried-fish-tacos-3

One More Fried

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Notes

After removing their paper coverings, be sure to rinse the tomatillos very well to remove their somewhat sticky coating.

Until this point, I hadn’t tasted any of my home-grown chiles, all having been pickled and preserved. Now that I’ve tasted this salsa, I will only add 2 cayenne peppers in the future. For my tastes,  4 of these cayenne are a bit much. (Please pass the milk.)

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Crostini Look Back

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s never too early to start working on the menu for the holiday feast(s). It wouldn’t be much of a celebratory meal if there aren’t any appetizers, and crostini/bruschette are tasty ones to whip up. You can see a couple of suggestions by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin Preview

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin

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The Spiralizer Chronicles, Chapter 2: Butternut Squash “Noodles” with Pancetta, Clams and Shrimp

Squash with Seafood 1

Although I may not be posting many recipes that rely upon my new love, the spiralizer, I continue to us it frequently. In fact — hold on to your hats — I use it more often than I do my pasta machine. I know! I never would have thought such a thing possible. Yet, here I am with about 3/4 lb of homemade pasta in my pasta basket, where’s its been for just about 3 weeks now. 3 weeks!!! This would have been unthinkable just last summer and I have butternut squash to credit — or is it blame?

As much as I enjoy zucchini noodles, “zoodles”, their texture often leaves much to be desired, They can go from al dente to unappealingly soft in the blink of an eye. To avoid this, I often serve them raw, making more of a pasta salad than a dish of freshly cooked pasta. Not so with butternut squash. Roasting doesn’t affect these noodles’ “bite” but it does add flavor to the final dish. Best of all, these noodles can be served hot, making a number of dishes possible. Today’s recipe is one such dish.

As is the case with most seafood pasta dishes, this one is easy to prepare and you’ll find that roasted butternut squash compliments seafood quite well. Truth be told, I’ve a squash just waiting for me to return home from the fishmonger with more seafood. It won’t be long now.

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Squash with Seafood 2

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Butternut Squash Noodles with Seafood Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 oz (56 g) pancetta, chopped
  • about 12 small clams — manila, littleneck, or cockles will do (See Notes)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or grated
  • about 12 shrimp — no smaller than 41 to 50 ct/lb
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs – omit if GF (See Notes)
  • 2 tsp parsley per serving, chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F (195˚ C).
  2. Separate neck of squash from the bulb end that contains the seeds. Reserve the bulb for another use.
  3. Peel the squash before using a spiralizer to create spaghetti-like noodles.
  4. Place noodles on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes.
  5. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, and a bit of olive oil. Mix thoroughly. Place mixture in a small fry pan over medium heat. Cook until mixture is golden brown. Set aside.
  6. Begin heating remaining olive oil in a large frypan with a lid. Add the pancetta and begin to render its fat. Do not allow the pancetta to burn. It should be fully rendered about the time that the noodles have 5 minutes to go.
  7. Place the garlic and clams in the pan with the pancetta and cover. Sauté for 5 minutes before adding the shrimp to the pan. Cover the pan.
  8. After a minute or so, stir the frying pan’s contents and cover.
  9. Remove noodles from the oven and dump them into the pan with the seafood and pancetta. Stir to evenly coat everything with the pan juices.
  10. Continue to sauté until the clams and shrimp are fully cooked — no more than 2 minutes more.
  11. DISCARD ANY CLAMS THAT REMAIN UNOPENED.
  12. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with the toasted breadcrumbs created in Step 5.
  13. Serve immediately.

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Squash with Seafood 3

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Notes

Use a brush reserved for food-prep to scrub all clams before cooking. Any that remain open after a thorough scrubbing should be discarded. Opinions vary as to whether to soak fresh clams in salt or fresh water to cause the clams to expel grit. Some feel that commercially harvested and shipped clams do not need such purging. If, however, your clams are bought directly from the fishermen or harvested yourself, they must be soaked for at least 30 minutes before scrubbing, changing the water midway through.

In Italian cooking, it is definitely not recommended to use grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese on a dish with most varieties of seafood. Very often, toasted breadcrumbs are substituted, just as I did above. Do you remember the stuffed calamari recipe I shared back in March? At the time, I suggested freezing the extra cooked breading mixture. They would make the perfect garnish for this dish, as well as a number of other pasta with seafood dishes. Being roasted already, all you need do is to warm them in a small frying pan. Use them as you would grated cheese, as a garnish just before serving.

I’ve seen recipes where squash noodles are boiled first, much like pasta, rather than roasted. I’ve yet to prepare them that way. If it ain’t broke …

My spiralizer is an attachment for a stand mixer. As such, it makes quick work of the “neck” of a butternut squash. Some may find this squash is too firm for their hand-cranked spiralizer. I’ve no experience with any of them and look forward to hearing from you in the Comments.

Of course, for a gluten-free version do not include the toasted breadcrumbs unless they’re GF. Garnish with chopped parsley instead.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tart Cherry Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate Sauce

With September almost here, there’s no time like the present for frozen treats. If you’re like me and took advantage of the sour cherry season, stashing some of the red beauties in your freezer, well, now’s the time to set some of them free! Follow this LINK to learn how to use them to prepare frozen yogurt, as well as a tasty chocolate sauce to smother it. All that’s missing is the cherry on top!

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

General Tso's - Preview

General Tso’s Chicken

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Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boys with Sriracha Aioli

Soft Shell Crab Po' 6oy 1

This is another of the recipes that I had scheduled before leaving for Italy last April. Most will be held until next year when they better match the season. Because soft shell crabs are still available, even if frozen, I decided to go ahead and publish this recipe. 

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In the first soft shell crab recipe I shared, it was mentioned that I was introduced to them at a restaurant in The Loop. For lunch that day, the crabs were served open-faced on a baguette. Since then, although I’ve enjoyed them several ways, that first meal has always been on my mind. I’ve since replicated the dish but, rather than open-faced, I prefer to serve them in the style of a po’ boy sandwich.

Like beignets at the Cafe du Monde, po’ boy sandwiches are a signature dish of New Orleans. Whether the protein used is meat or seafood, all are served on a relatively thinly crusted French roll with lettuce, very often sliced tomato, and a sauce. That sauce could be an aioli, rémoulade, tartar sauce, or even just plain mayo. For me, a well-made po’ boy is about as good a sandwich that there is.

When I first tried to make a soft shell crab po’ boy, I experimented with batters to coat the crabs. Although each attempt was tasty, the crab wasn’t as crispy as I wanted. I then switched over to using Panko bread crumbs but first I coated the crabs in corn starch before dipping them in the egg and dredging them in the bread crumbs. Once fried, I used them in a sandwich made with freshly baked rolls, a spicy garlic aioli, and with tomatoes out of season, I added a bit of pickle on top. The result? Well, I swore that I heard singing as I took that first bite. OK, maybe that was just me but it sure was a tasty sandwich!

The recipe itself is very easy to follow. I’ve included links and recipes should you wish to duplicate the sandwich exactly.

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Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy 2

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Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boy Sandwich Recipe

Ingredients

  • Soft shell crabs, cleaned
  • enough corn starch to cover each crab
  • salt, pepper, sweet paprika, to taste (See Notes)
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • about 2 tbsp milk
  • Panko breadcrumbs to coat each crab
  • oil for frying (I used grape seed oil)

for the aioli

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 roasted garlic cloves, smashed (see Notes for recipe)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 to 3 tbsp Sriracha sauce, more/less to taste
  • 6 to 8 oz (177 ml to 237 ml) olive oil (see Notes)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

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Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy 3

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Directions

  1. Make the aioli:
    • Place the egg yolk, lemon juice, garlic, Dijon mustard, and Sriracha sauce into the bowl of a food processor.
    • Season lightly with salt and pepper and process.
    • Once fully combined and while the processor continues to run, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream until the aioli reaches the consistency you prefer.
    • Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.
  2. Set up a breading station:
    • In a not-too-shallow dish, combine the corn starch, salt, pepper, and paprika. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.
    • In another equally shallow dish, add the egg & milk and stir to combine .
    • In a 3rd dish, create an even layer of Panko breadcrumbs.
  3. Meanwhile, begin heating the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. You want the oil to be a depth of about an inch and to reach a temperature of about 165˚ F.
  4. When the oil nears the correct temperature, dredge the crabs in the dry flour mixture. before giving them a bath in the egg mixture.
  5. Remove the crabs and allow the excess egg mixture to drain a bit before placing each in the Panko breadcrumbs. Be sure each crab is evenly coated with breadcrumbs before placing in the hot oil. The crabs will spatter when they hit the oil, so, be very careful not to burn your hands/fingers.
  6. The crabs will reach golden brown in about 2 minutes. Carefully flip each one and continue frying an additional 2 minutes or until the crabs are evenly colored. Frying times may vary depending upon the pan size, heat/flame setting, and number of crabs being fried simultaneously. Keep an eye on them.
  7. Remove crabs to drain on paper towels and season with salt before placing on a serving platter.
  8. Bring to the table with sliced rolls, lettuce, the aioli, pickles, tomato slices, lemon wedges, and/or whatever condiments you prefer.

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Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy 5

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Notes

Knowing that the aioli was flavorful as well as spicy, I used a light hand when seasoning the components of the dish. Of course, you’re free to season the dish as much, or as little, as you like.

One of the key points of a true Po’ Boy sandwich is the bread. A form of French bread, the rolls have an even crumb and relatively soft crust. The crunch in this sandwich is on the inside. (Pssst. It’s the crabs.) I found a recipe for New Orleans French bread on the Saveur website and enjoyed it very much. I did halve the recipe, however, since I didn’t wish to watch bread go stale on my counter top.

Although I used olive oil to make my aioli, you may prefer to use a lighter oil instead.

To roast garlic:

  • Pre-heat oven to 400˚ F (200˚ C)
  • Use a sharp knife to cut off the top of a whole garlic bulb.
  • Place the bottom section, cut-side up, in a piece of aluminum foil.
  • Drizzle the bulb with olive oil before sealing the foil around the bulb.
  • Bake in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes.
  • Cool before using.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Zucchini Blossom Look Back

Have too large a harvest of zucchini come August? Well, why not stuff a few blossoms now and get ahead of the problem? Today’s look back will show you how it’s done. All you need do now is to click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Bone Marrow Risotto - Preview

Beef Bone Marrow Risotto with Porcini and Morel Mushrooms

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Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morel Mushrooms

Present conditions notwithstanding, spring’s arrival is certainly welcomed in these parts, for it means the return of flowers and green to our drab landscape. It also means that fresh produce and vegetables begin to make their return to our markets, starting with asparagus and a variety of mushrooms. One yearly event that may escape your notice is the arrival of soft shell crabs. A crab’s shell does not grow, so, every year the crabs shed their old shells in favor of this year’s newer, more spacious models. The new shell is relatively soft for a few weeks, setting off a rush to harvest as many crabs as possible before they toughen up for another 11 months.

Lucky for me, I’ve a great fishmonger that provides many of the fruits of spring. Located not far from my home in Chicago, The Fishguy Market & Wellfleet is my go-to place for seafood and, in the spring, for items like morel mushrooms, asparagus, and ramps. Today’s post may have been written last spring and held until now but its morels and soft shell crabs, as well as the duck eggs used to make the trenette pasta, all came from the Fishguy. They offer much more than I could possibly mention here and my advice for those living in Chicagoland would be to join the mailing list. You may find it worth your while to stop there some day but be forewarned. If you’re going for a sale on clams or soft shell crabs, get there early. They are the favorites of some selfish blogger who, by his own admission, cannot resist buying them.

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Linguine with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 1

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I first enjoyed soft shell crabs some 20+ years ago while working in The Loop. A few of us went to lunch at a nearby hotel and soft shell crabs were on the menu. I decided to give them a try and it was love at first bite. Lightly floured and deep-fried, the crabs were served open-face on a long roll reminiscent of New Orleans’ oyster poor boy sandwiches.  Since that fateful day, I order or prepare them whenever I see them. (By the way, a recipe for soft shell crab po’ boys is in the works, as well as a yellow curry.)

It is best to purchase the crabs at their peak of freshness, meaning they should be alive if possible. It also means that you’ll have to kill and clean them before using them in your dish. Well, I love the crabs but let my fishmonger handle the dirty work. As for the morels, a simple brushing should remove any dirt. If need be, you can give them a quick rinse — do not soak — but be sure to pat them dry before using. (See Notes.)

Last week, a number of you inquired about the trenette used in these recipes. Cut a little thinner than linguine, trenette most closely resembles that which Mom cut by hand when I was a boy. Luckily, I found an attachment for my pasta machine that recreates this nostalgia-packed pasta. If you go looking for the pasta, be sure to buy “TRENETTE” and not “TRENNETTE“.  The first is Mom’s pasta. The latter is another pasta that is much like penne, though a little more narrow.  Regardless, don’t be alarmed if you cannot find trenette. Look for a dried pasta called linguine fini. It will make a fine substitute.

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Scheduling Note 

This is it, my last post for the next few weeks. My nephew and I will be traveling to Italy to visit Dad’s family in The Republic of San Marino and then it’s off to see Rome. Later, while he boards a plane to return home, I’ll board a train to Corinaldo, the wellspring of the Bartolini Clan. See you on the other side.

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Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 4

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Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morel Mushrooms Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) trenette – linguine may be substituted
  • 3 or 4 soft shell crabs, cleaned
  • 2 tbsp buter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 2 to 4 oz (56 to 112 g) morel mushrooms (see Notes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • reserved pasta water
  • fresh parsley, for garnish

Directions

  1. Heat oil and butter in a large frypan with a lid over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until browned but not burnt. Remove and discard the garlic, leaving the now-flavored oil in the pan.
  2. Add the red pepper flakes and crabs to the pan, lower the heat to med-low, and cover the pan.
  3. Continue to gently sauté the crabs for about 15 minutes, turning them over mid-way through. The crabs will turn crimson when cooked.
  4. Meanwhile, bring to the boil a large pot of salted water. Add the trenette and cook until it is about 2 minutes shy of being al dente. (If using packaged pasta, refer to the package instructions.) Time the components so that the crabs and pasta are ready at the same time. Now is the time to reserve a cup of the pasta water.
  5. Turn the heat to med-high before placing the morels into the pan with the crabs.
  6. Drain the trenette and dump the pasta into the pan. Stir/toss to combine. If too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
  7. Continue to sauté until the pasta is cooked to your satisfaction.
  8. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with freshly chopped parsley before bringing to the table.

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Linguine with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 2

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Notes

As this blog’s good friend (and honorary Bartolini) Stefan proved, mushrooms do not absorb enough water to affect taste when cleaned by rinsing with water. Morels have a pitted surface to which water may cling. If you do rinse them, take extra time to dry them as much as possible. Failure to do so may result in the morels being steamed in the frypan instead of being sautéed.

Timing is important with this dish but not as critical as it was in last week’s mollusks dish. Still, you don’t want the pasta or crabs to sit waiting for the other component to complete. Fresh pasta will cook in about 3 minutes, so, drain and add it to the pan after it has cooked for about 2 minutes. Follow the package instructions for dried pasta, draining it about 2 minutes before the stated time for al dente.

Whenever you’re cooking pasta, always reserve some of the pasta water, removing it just before you drain the pasta. Should the finished dish be too dry, a little of this water will work wonders. Not only will it moisten the dish but its starch content will help to thicken whatever sauce is being used to dress the pasta.

If you cannot source fresh morels, dried may be substituted. Soak them in hot, NOT boiling, water for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Once hydrated, strain the mushrooms and use in today’s recipe but reserve the soaking liquid. Filter the liquid to remove any grit and freeze, to be used to flavor your next mushroom risotto.

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My comments regarding the Fishguy Market were my own. I requested and was granted permission to mention the market with no compensation trading hands for my doing so.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Ramps Ravioli with Morel Mushrooms

Since we’re talking about utilizing spring’s harvest, why not continue the theme with today’s look back? Hard to believe it was 3 years ago that I posted a recipe for ramps ravioli dressed with a morel mushroom sauce. WIth its ingredients soon coming into season, now’s the time to consider preparing the recipe. You can see how it’s prepared by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Corzetti Pasta Preview

A Surprise!

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Trenette with Mussels and Clams

Trenette con Cozze e Vongole

Trenette with Clams and Mussels 3

Just when you think you’ve got all bases covered, The Fates take note and decide to have a little fun. I have been busily at work getting recipes and posts together for the next several weeks. With my trip fast approaching, I don’t want any loose ends to complicate matters. Having posts written and scheduled means that my attention, such as it is,  can be diverted elsewhere with minimal affect to the blog. That was the plan and, with everything in place, I went to the fishmonger.

How was I to know that there would be a sale on clams and mussels? More to the point, how was I supposed to ignore the sale on clams and mussels? The truth is, I couldn’t. I left the shop with a bag full of mollusks and a head full of pasta ideas. On the way home, I stopped at a grocery and bought everything I needed to make today’s dish. Afterwards, I wrote this post and inserted it here, shifting the other posts to accommodate it.

So why the schedule change? Asparagus. It’s coming into season and the green stalks are every bit the star of today’s dish as are its shelled companions. You may not find clams or mussels on sale but you’re sure to see plenty of asparagus. It makes a wonderful addition to just about any pasta that you might prepare in the weeks ahead.

At this point, you would think that all’s well with my schedule and I can rest easy. Oh, how little you know of The Fates. Having finished adjusting the posts to accommodate the new entry, I searched for my soft shell crab pasta recipe to use as the déjà vu photo for today’s post. It was nowhere to be found. I soon discovered that although it had been included in the cookbook, the recipe never made it to the blog. Curses! With soft shell crabs currently in season, that recipe needs to be posted and the recipe has been inserted into the schedule for next time. Once again, all subsequent posts have been shifted to make room for the new guy. One step forward, two steps back.

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Trenette with Clams and Mussels 1

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Trenette with Mussels and Clams Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) trenette pasta – spaghetti or linguine may be substituted
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or diced
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 3 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • about 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 lb littleneck clams, soaked to remove grit and scrubbed (See Notes)
  • 1 lb mussels, scrubbed with beards removed
  • 1/2 lb of fresh asparagus, chopped into 2 inch (5 cm) pieces
  • 2 tbs fresh basil chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • roasted bread crumbs for garnish – optional  (See Notes)
  • fresh parsley for garnish

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Trenette with Clams and Mussels 4

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Directions

  1. Begin heating a large pot of salted water to be used to cook the pasta.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan with a lid over medium heat.
  3. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes and wine. Stir well to combine.
  5. Continue cooking until most of the wine has reduced and the tomatoes have broken down — about 20 to 25 minutes.
  6. Add the asparagus and basil, stir, and then add the clams. Cover the frying pan.
  7. Add the pasta to the boiling water. (See Notes).
  8. About 2 minutes later, add the mussels to the frying pan and cover again.
  9. The mussels and clams should be opening at just about the time the pasta is nearing al dente – about 4 to 5 minutes.
  10. Drain the pasta and add it to the frying pan. Toss to combine. Continue cooking until the pasta is cooked to your satisfaction.
  11. Place the frying pan’s contents into the serving bowl. Be sure to remove and discard any unopened clams and mussels. When in doubt, toss it out!
  12. Garnish the dish with toasted bread crumbs and parsley before serving. Please, no cheese for this seafood dish.

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Empty Molluscs

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Notes

Unlike years ago, most clams bought today from retail outlets have already been purged of sand, or so I’ve heard. That’s not the case, however, if you harvest your own or buy them along the shore. Even so, I still soak my clams to give them a chance to eliminate any sand. To do this, place the clams in a bowl of cold, fresh water and allow them to soak for a half hour or more, changing the water mid-way through. This is not the only way, however, and some advise that salt water is better at getting clams to discharge their sand. In both camps, there are some who believe that a bit of cornmeal will speed the process.

Do you remember last week’s baked calamari post? At the time, I advised making extra breading and reserving all of it left in the roasting pan once the calamari were removed and served. Well, this is one of the reasons why I suggested saving it. Rather than toast some breadcrumbs to garnish your pasta, grab some of these reserved breadcrumbs instead. They’re already cooked so either let them come to room temperature or nuke ’em for about 30 seconds before using. They are a great source of seafood flavor for your pasta.

This recipe is based on cooking dried pasta with an al dente cooking time of about 6 minutes. When I made the dish pictured, I used fresh trenette pasta that I had made just about an hour before cooking. Freshly made pasta cooks in 2 to 3 minutes. As a result, I waited an additional 2 minutes before adding it to the boiling water.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Asparagus Ravioli Deja vu

WIth this post’s mention of asparagus, it would be a missed opportunity should I not point you to another asparagus-related post. Made with asparagus, crimini mushrooms, and freshly made ricotta, these ravioli are a great springtime dish, whether served as a starter or main course. You can learn how to make the ravioli HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels Preview

Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morel Mushrooms

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Zia’s Baked Calamari

Calamari Cotti della Zia

St. Joseph’s Feast Day is just around the corner (March 19th) and what better way to celebrate than to share one of the few remaining Bartolini recipes, Zia’s Baked Calamari.

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Baked Calamari 6

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The 12 of us living together in the two-flat were treated to some exceptional cooking, courtesy of Mom, Zia, and Nonna. We all had our favorites, to be sure, and I’ve made no attempt to hide my never-ending love of Bartolini ravioli. Even so, Zia’s baked calamari is the one dish that reigns supreme in several of our hearts,. You can be sure that when that platter is set on the table, photos will be snapped and dispatched to those not present. The caption is guaranteed to read something like, “Look what we had for dinner.” When not included, the “Nyeah, nyeah!” is implied.

Now that I know how they’re prepared, it all seems so easy. Getting here, though, was tortuous, leaving a trail of barely edible cephalopods in my wake. From over-stuffing the tubes with breading that was far too oily to roasting them at too high a temperature and for too long, if there was a mistake to be made, I found and made it — sometimes more than once. Finally I made it a point to stay in her kitchen and watch Zia perform every step of the process, even grabbing a bit of breading to get a feel for the amount of oil needed. And then it happened. I got it right. I’ve not been so happy with a dish since I made my first batch of our family ravioli. I am very happy to say that calamari is now a frequent guest of honor at my dinner table.

Since that momentous dinner, I have made a couple modest changes to the original recipe, adding a garlic clove to the stuffing and some lemon juice to the baking dish just before placing it in the oven. You can easily skip both if you like. Otherwise, you’ll find that the stuffing is very similar to the breading used in several of my family’s recipes. Zia adds a bit of lemon juice and the chopped tentacles to the mixture. No need to include the latter if you don’t want them.

Now, as I so painfully learned, here are the problems to avoid. Do not over saturate the filling with olive oil. It should be moist to the touch, not sopping wet. Fill, do not stuff, the tubes. Calamari shrink while being baked and, If too heavily stuffed, much of the excess will spill out. When properly filled, the tubes will shrink around the filling without any being lost. Lastly, raising the oven temperature will result in over-cooked calamari with under-cooked filling. (Been there, there, and, yes, even there.)

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Happy St. Joseph’s Feast Day, everyone!

*     *     *

Baked Calamari Filling

*     *     *

Baked Calamari Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs calamari, fresh or frozen, cleaned (tentacles optional)
  • 2 cups plain bread crumbs – Panko may be substituted
  • half cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or grated (optional)
  • enough olive oil to moisten the bread crumbs – should not be sopping wet
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh lemon juice (optional)

Directions

  1. Clean the calamari, if necessary. Make sure to remove the beak located in the center of the tentacles. (See Notes)
  2. Chop the tentacles, if using.
  3. Combine all the ingredients, except for the calamari tubes, and mix well.
  4. Use the breading mixture to fill the calamari tubes. Do not overfill. The tubes will shrink while cooking.
  5. Place filled calamari in a baking dish that has been lightly oiled or sprayed with cooking spray.
  6. Sprinkle excess breading mixture on top of the calamari. (See Notes)
  7. Sprinkle lightly with olive oil and, if you like, a little lemon juice.
  8. Place in a pre-heated 350˚ F (175˚C) for 35 to 40 minutes. (See Notes)
  9. Serve immediately.

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Baked Calamari 5

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Notes

I was unable to capture the process but you can watch a chef clean whole squid right HERE.

In the past, I’ve mentioned that rubbery calamari will result when not cooked quickly or for at least 45 minutes. Here, because they’re baked, a few minutes have been shaved off the cooking time. The calamari will be slightly crisp instead of being chewy.

In the highly unlikely event that there are leftovers, I like to slice them into rings and use them when I prepare pasta aglio e olio. Just follow the pasta recipe and add the calamari to the pan of seasoned oil when you add the pasta. When the pasta is ready, the calamari will be heated through.

The breading remnants in the baking dish are worth their weight in gold. Gather and place them in a sealable plastic bag to be stored in the freezer. Use them to garnish a future seafood pasta dish in place of cheese. They will add plenty of flavor to your pasta and all you need do is reach into the freezer to retrieve a bag.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Easter Bread Deja Vu

WIth Easter fast approaching, why not take a look at a bread that’s traditionally prepared in Marchigiani homes for the holy day? The recipe comes from King Arthur Flour’s website but it is very reminiscent of a loaf that my Nonna made for her two young daughters, Mom and my Zia. You can learn all about it just by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Trenette with Clams and Mussels Preview

Trenette with Mussels and Clams

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Stewed Cuttlefish and Squid

Sepia e Calamari in Umido

It’s that time of year when some will surf the net looking for seafood recipes. In many Italian households, you see, Christmas Eve will be celebrated with a Feast of the 7 Fishes … or 11 Fishes … or 12 Fishes … or 13 Fishes. The number itself is dependent upon: a) the number of Christian Sacraments (7); b) the number of Apostles minus Judas (11); c) the number of original Apostles (12); or, d) the number of original Apostles plus Jesus (13). No matter how or why you count them — and there are more versions than those I’ve listed — that’s a lot of fish dishes.

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Sepia e Calamari in Umido

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Although my family never celebrated with a Feast of however many Fishes, we did have a variety of seafood dishes to enjoy on Christmas Eve. I’ve shared those recipes, along with a meatless dish or two, in previous years. To make it easier for you to access them, I’ve created a “Christmas Eve” category that you can access at the end of this post or on the right side of the blog’s Home Page. If you need more suggestions, you may want to check out my Seafood (Frutti di Mare) category. There you’ll find every seafood dish I’ve shared over the past 5 years. (5 years!! Do you believe it?)

I doubt that today’s recipe was ever served at either home of the two-flat. The fact is, either cuttlefish (sepia) or squid (calamari) would have been served but never both in the same pot. Believe me. Initially I had no intention of doing it either. The fact is that the fishmonger was out of fresh cuttlefish and the box contained fewer than were needed to make today’s dish. As luck would have it, that was the only box that he had. It had been decades since either Zia or myself had even seen cuttlefish and I wanted to surprise her with them during the last Visitation. So, I bought some fresh squid and decided to sail into uncharted culinary waters.

Before getting into the recipe, lets talk seafood. Cuttlefish, squid, and octopus are all members of the cephalopod family. As you can see in the photo below, a cuttlefish has the shorter, more round body with tentacles that are also shorter and thicker than its squid cousin. If you own a parakeet/budgie, you may have purchased a cuttlebone for it to use to maintain its beak. That “bone” comes from cuttlefish. In squid, that bone is a smaller, clear, and flexible piece of cartilage. It’s known as the “pen”. The flesh of cuttlefish is thicker than that of squid and most believe it to be more tender. When cooked in umido, like today’s dish, the difference is too minimal to be noticed — at least to my palate. Lastly, because of the differences in body type, I sliced the cuttlefish lengthwise into strips. The squid’s body was cut into rings. The tentacles of both were cut in half but if you find them unappealing, just discard them. (See NOTES for help with cleaning squid.)

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Cuttlefish & Squid

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Stewed Cuttlefish and Squid Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 or 3 anchovies
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped or grated
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 lb raw cuttlefish, skinned, cleaned and cut into strips. If using tentacles, cut in half.
  • 1 lb raw squid, skinned, cleaned, and cut into rings. If fusing tentacles, cut in half.
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large can (28 oz, 800 g) whole tomatoes
  • 1 small can (14 oz, 400 g ) diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbs fresh basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 whole clove garlic, minced or grated
  • sliced, thick crusted bread for serving

Directions

  1. Heat oil over med-high heat in a medium, heavy bottomed sauce pan.
  2. Add the anchovies, garlic, and red pepper flakes before reducing heat to med-low. Cook for about 2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to burn.
  3. Add cuttlefish and squid and continue to cook until flesh whitens – about 5 minutes.
  4. Add wine and increase heat to med-high. Continue to cook until wine is reduced by half – about 7 to 10 minutes.
  5. Add both cans of tomatoes, tearing the tomatoes by hand as you add them to the pot.
  6. Combine the parsley and basil and use 3/4 to season the pot. Reserve the rest. Stir to fully combine.
  7. Reduce the heat to medium and allow the pot to simmer for at least 20 minutes. It is ready to be served when the stew has thickened and grown deeper in color.
  8. Bring to the table garnished with the remaining chopped basil and parsley.

To Serve

While the stew simmers, toast some crusty bread, one slice per serving. While still warm. rub the remaining garlic clove across the bread. Place one slice of the now garlicky bread

into the bottom of each serving bowl. When it has finished simmering, ladle the stew over the bread in each bowl. Buon appetito!

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Notes

When cooking cuttlefish or squid, either cook them for less than a minute or more than 45 minutes. Anything in between will result in seafood with the texture of rubber. Because this is a stewed dish, if in doubt, taste a piece. If it’s chewy, continue to cook until tender.

As you know, I work alone in the kitchen, taking all the photos as I go. Normally, there isn’t a problem that a time delay and remote shutter cannot handle. Cleaning squid, however, is a different matter completely. Being the ham-fisted person that I am, there really was no way for me to capture the cleaning without in some way impacting my camera. Is squid juice corrosive? I didn’t want to find out, so, I’ve found a video that will teach you what you need to know about cleaning squid — all in under 3 minutes. Enjoy!  How to clean squid.

This is another seafood dish in which the flavors are relatively mild. Using grated cheese would pretty much obliterate them. Save that cheese for some other dish on the night’s menu.

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Leftovers?

Squid and Sepia Leftovers

Was there any doubt?

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Frutti di Mare, Deja vu

Whether you choose to serve this dish individually, with each dinner guest receiving a packet, or en masse, with a large packet placed in the table’s center, few dishes will delight your table mates like Linguine with Seafood in Parchment. After all, who doesn’t like receiving gifts this time of year and this one comes with a fantastic aroma that’s released upon opening. It doesn’t get much better than this and you can learn all about it HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Braised Rabbit PreviewStovetop Braised Rabbit

(You may want to skip this one, Eva.)

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Squid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga

Linguine al Nero di Calamari con Vongole e Bottarga

Santa School - Korea

(With thanks to the folks at Colored Mondays)

We Bartolini are an ecumenical lot. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or even Festivus, we hope your holidays are of the most memorable kind.

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Although this is my 4th Christmas Eve on WordPress (I know! FOURTH!?!?!), this is the 3rd time I’ve used the occasion to highlight seafood. In the past, I shared a tongue-in-cheek tale of how Italian Catholics prepared a Feast of the Seven Fishes to get around the Church’s rule of not eating meat on Christmas Eve. To be sure, the Church’s original intent was to keep that day, the last of Advent, a day of refection and sacrifice in preparation for the Christ Child’s imminent arrival. Some of the faithful, however, couldn’t wait to get the party started, so, instead they prepared a seafood feast. To avoid the Church’s wrath, they prepared 7 different dishes, 1 fish for each of the Seven Holy Sacraments. With their Church leaders appeased — many of whom were enjoying their own, even more lavish, seafood feasts — a tradition was born. Today, feasts of 10, 11, and even 12 seafood dishes may be prepared and served.

Last week I shared my family’s recipe for garbanzo soup, the type of simple dish that I’m sure the Church had originally intended Catholics prepare on the last day of Advent. Today I’ll share a recipe that is far removed from last week’s simple, unadorned minestra, Squid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga. I’ll get to the recipe soon enough but 1st, I’ve “got some ‘splaining to do.”

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Squid Ink Pasta 3

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I think it was Mom who told me about Nonna (Zia’s Mother-in-law) cleaning cuttlefish, sepia. A cousin of squid, sepia are often prepared in very much the same ways. (Those who have owned parakeets, “budgies”, often hang cuttle bones in their cages to be used by the birds for beak maintenance. These “bones’ are removed from large cuttlefish during cleaning.) Nonna’s sepia were quite fresh and had to be gutted and cleaned. As I recall, if she was lucky enough to come upon a sepia’s ink sack, Nonna reserved it and used it to make black pasta noodles.

The story stuck with me and, over the years, I’ve searched high and low for the illusive ink. I wasn’t picky. It didn’t matter whether I found squid or sepia ink. As my search criss-crossed Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods, I cannot tell you how many dead ends I reached, having followed the advice of some well-meaning people who were sure that it could be found at this place or that. Dejected, I’d give up the search, only to begin it anew when some TV chef used squid ink to make pasta. Once, last year, I even purchased ready-made black pasta noodles. What a disappointment!

This all changed about 3 months ago. Armed with a gift card given to me by Cynthia and Nigel for my last birthday, I went shopping at Chicago’s newest Italian market. (Cynthia Squid Inkand Nigel are the friends with whom I shared the flats in Florence and Rome.) As I passed the fresh pasta counter, I noticed they were selling black pasta. Upon asking, the clerk directed me to the fishmongers and, lo and behold, they had squid ink! Not only that but they had 2 kinds: 1, a large jar of thick paste, and, the other, a much thinner liquid, in packaging that would remind you of those ubiquitous soy sauce packets found at the bottom of every bag of Chinese take-away. After the fishmonger assured me that it would “last forever”, I bought the paste, thinking I could better control the amount used. On the way home, I decided that this would be the dish I would serve Zia for our Christmas dinner.

What I haven’t mentioned is that, months before, I had ordered some bottarga online, intending to serve it to Zia some day. Bottarga is the dried and cured eggs of mullet fish. Thought to have Greek or Arabic origins, bottarga is a Mediterranean product and can be found from Portugal and Spain to North Africa. In Italy, it is most closely identified with Sardinia and Sicily, while here in the States, bottarga is now produced in Florida. (If Bottarga 1interested, “locally” produced Bottarga is usually available this time of year.) Bottarga can be bought dried in the original egg sacks, or sealed in wax, or both. Once purchased, if kept dry, it will last quite some time in the fridge. While its scent has been described as the “breath of the sea”, bottarga is bursting with umami, lending both salty and fishy flavors to your dish. To serve, some may shave thin slices which are then used to top off bruschetta or salads. Using a microplane or similar utensil, others will grate bottarga over pasta, risotto, grilled vegetables, broiled/baked/grilled fish, and even eggs. There is one thing about bottarga, though, that you should consider before rushing off to purchase some. Not everyone likes the stuff. Very much like anchovies, you either love it or hate it. Lucky for us, we all love it.

It took no time to decide what would be the 3rd and final ingredient for our Christmas Eve pasta. Both Zia and I love pasta with clams, vongole. Now, I always go to the Italian markets the day before I depart for Zia’s, buying her a few Italian staples that just aren’t available in her area. In the past, if the fishmonger has fresh clams — especially vongole from Italy — I’ll buy some, pack them in ice, and warn Zia that clams will be on the menu. That’s what I did just prior to my last visit, though the clams were the manila variety. I left the next day knowing that there was a great dinner in our immediate future.

I served this pasta to Zia as our early Christmas Dinner. It was a complete surprise to her and to her son, my cousin the Max Whisperer, who was also seated at the table. Both thoroughly enjoyed the dish, as will you and your guests when you serve it.

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Squid Ink Pasta

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To make squid ink pasta 

It is far easier to make black pasta than you might assume. Gather the ingredients required to make a batch of Mom’s Pasta Dough. Once you’ve placed 4 whole eggs + enough water to equal 1 cup of liquid in a measuring cup, add 1½ tbsp of squid ink. Lightly beat the mixture to fully incorporate the ink. (See Notes) Proceed as your would when making normal pasta dough, cutting it, once dry, to make whichever sized noodles you prefer. (I made trenette because it most closely resembles the pasta that Mom would cut by hand.) Cook as you would normal pasta, removing it from the water just before reaching al dente. Reserve a cup of pasta water.

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To prepare the clams

(See Notes for help with cleaning clams)

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat in a large fry pan with cover. Once hot, add 2 cloves minced garlic and sauté for about a minute. Add 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup white wine, and about 3 dozen vongole. (Cockles, little neck, or manilla clams may be substituted.) Cover the pan and allow the clams to open, about 5 to 8 minutes. Do not overcook and discard any clams that have not opened by the end of the cooking time. Add about 3 tbsp of chopped fresh parsley.

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To assemble the dish and serve

Once the unopened clams have been removed, place the newly drained pasta into the fry pan and toss to coat with the clams and pan juices. Add a little of the reserved pasta water if needed. Pour the pan’s contents on to a serving platter. Drizzle a little of your best extra virgin olive oil on top of the pasta, followed by some chopped parsley. Grate, as you would a garnish, a bit of bottarga on top of the pasta and serve. Once your guests have received their serving, be sure that each receives another sprinkling of bottarga, whether you do the grating or they handle it themselves.

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Squid Ink Pasta 2

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Notes

Blending the squid ink with the eggs ensures that it will be evenly dispersed throughout the pasta dough much more quickly than if added directly to the flour.

If, when handling the dough, your notice your fingers or work surface blackening, it’s a sign that your dough needs a bit more flour. Perfectly mixed flour will not “bleed” black.

Clams must be inspected and cleaned before use.

  1. Examine your clams, discarding any with cracked or broken shells. Also, discard any that are open, even slightly, and that will not close when tapped on a counter top.
  2. Clams bought at most markets today usually have been purged of sand prior to purchase. You must purge the clams if you harvest them yourself or buy them directly from the fishermen. To purge the clams of sand, place them in a deep bowl and cover with room temperature water. Soak for 30 minutes, empty the water and, repeat the process at least another time.
  3. Once purged, use a small brush to scrub the shells. Again, discard any that remain open — even a wee bit — during the scrubbing process.
  4. Clams are now ready for cooking.

The Italian custom of avoiding cheese with most seafood pastas is not some “silly” or “ridiculous” decree. The suggestion is based on the fact that many forms of seafood are quite mildly flavored. Use of Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano would easily overpower the seafood, rendering it almost “invisible” to the palate. In today’s recipe, cheese would most certainly mask the delicate flavors of the squid ink pasta and clams, as well as obliterate all of the bottarga’s scent and much of its flavor. Of course, you can eat whatever you like but if you take the time to seek out and purchase fresh seafood, often at premium prices, why hide it under a blanket of cheese?

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

linquine ai frutti-di mare al cartocci

It was but a year ago when I shared another seafood dish worthy of any Christmas Eve celebration. In that dish, clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, and scallops were combined with linguine in a mildly spiced tomato sauce and sealed in parchment before being baked. It is a very special dish for a very special night. You can learn how to prepare it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Eggs in Purgatory Preview

Eggs in Purgatory

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Buon Natale a Tutti!

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A Souvenir from Florence: Fried Sage

Salvia Fritti

Fried Sage 2I’m usually not one to bring home many souvenirs from my trips abroad. There were exceptions, of course, but these days I’m more prone to bring home recipes or ideas for enhancing my own. Last week’s garganelli post was one such souvenir. This past trip was no exception.

Just like here now, Italy was at the end of the Spring pea season when we arrived. Still, though, I was served a number of dishes in which fresh peas were an ingredient. Whereas I cook peas fully whenever I add them to pasta, these were served relatively al dente. The result was a much fresher tasting pea, giving the pasta that Primavera flavor. Since returning home, I’ve been buying fresh peas every week and doing little more than heating them before serving. Try it next time you make pasta with peas and let me know what you think.

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On our first night together in Florence, we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The menu offered an antipasto called “Salvia Fritti”. We knew that it was fried sage but that didn’t seem like anything special. After all, we’ve all used fried sage leaves for a garnish. When asked, the waiter explained that the sage leaves were used to enclose anchovies before being dipped in batter and fried. Get outta here! I immediately placed my order, as did my fellow anchovy lover sitting across from me. His wife chose something else; a decision she would soon regret.

This dish was just incredible. It was so good that the next night, when we discovered our preferred restaurant was unexpectedly closed, we high-tailed it over to the previous night’s restaurant to enjoy another round of fried sage.

Salvia Fritti

The restaurant version

Happy to get a table and eager to taste these delightful treats, we could hardly wait to place 3 orders for Salvia Fritii. That’s when it happened. Our waiter told us that they had just served the last of the tasty delicacies. The 3 of us gasped so loudly that the restaurant’s other diners must have thought we had just received terrible news. Well, in fact we had. To be sure, we enjoyed our dinner but, all the while, we knew that we wouldn’t be served salvia fritti again during our holiday. That’s when I decided to make them at home. So, I asked the waiter how they were made and, this trip, along with a change in my pea cooking ways, I brought home today’s recipe for fried sage.

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This is such an easy recipe that It’s hardly worth its own post and if it weren’t for the photos I’ll be sharing, I would have combined this dish with another. You see, to make this dish, all you need do is place some anchovies between 2 sage leaves and coat them with batter before deep frying until golden brown. The only thing to consider is the thickness of the batter. As you can see in the photo, we were served sage that was coated with a thick batter. My batter, however, was a bit thinner and, therefore, crisper after frying. The choice is yours. If you’re unsure, start with a thicker batter, fry a couple, sample, and then adjust with more sparkling water, if needed. Don’t worry about the sampling. Just like when cooking bacon, sampling is to be expected.

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Fried Sage 1*     *     *

Fried Sage Recipe

Ingredients

  • Large fresh sage leaves
  • anchovies (see Notes)
  • 3/4 cup AP flour
  • 1/4 corn starch (see Notes)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • sparkling/carbonated water
  • olive oil or a substitute for frying

Directions

  1. Prepare the batter:
    • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt.
    • Add the egg and then the water, whisking until a smooth batter results.
    • Set aside until needed.
  2. Pre-heat frying oil to 350˚ F (180˚ C).
  3. Pair the sage leaves according to size.
  4. Place anchovy fillet(s) in-between the 2 paired leaves. Use the palm of your hand to press the leaves together.
  5. Dip the sage “packets” into the batter and gently shake off the excess before placing in the hot oil. Repeat for the other packets though be careful not to overcrowd the pan.
  6. Fry until golden brown on both sides, turning each over once in the process.
  7. Remove from hot oil and drain on paper towels. Season lightly with salt. If working in batches, keep warm in a pre-heated 200˚ F (95˚ C) oven.
  8. Serve immediately.

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Salted AnchoviesSalt-packed anchovies, anyone?

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Notes

Anchovies are the biggest concern for this recipe. If you can find fresh, by all means use them. They will give this dish the best flavor possible. If, like me, you cannot find fresh anchovies — and believe me I’ve tried — your next best option is salt-packed anchovies. Though not the same as fresh, they are a very good second choice. Just be sure to rinse them very well before using. Whether you use fresh or salt-packed anchovies, be sure to clean them, removing the head if necessary, and to check for and remove the spine. If unable to find fresh or salt-packed anchovies, by all means use tins of anchovies packed in olive oil. The bottom line is that you really have to taste anchovies sandwiched between sage leaves, battered, and fried. It’s a simple as that.

You’ll notice I used cornstarch in my batter. I find that it makes things more crisp, Omit it if you disagree.

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What if you don’t like sage?

Fried AnchoviesWell, not very long ago, a group of us went to a restaurant owned by a winner of America’s Top Chef. While there, we were served deep-fried anchovies. Can I get a “YUM!”? That dish is recreated here, using the same batter that was used for the sage. Just batter the fillets and fry them. Be sure to make extra, though. The kitchen elves love them and tend to snack on a few during the cooking process.

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Now, on to the Republic of San Marino

After a far too brief stay in Bologna, I rented a car and drove to Rimini before turning towards the Apennines and the Republic of San Marino. Founded in 301 CE and only 24 sq mi (64 km2), San Marino lays claim to being the world’s oldest republic. {In comparison, Chicago is 228 sq mi (591 km2).} The city of San Marino is located atop Mount Titan, Monte Titano, offering beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and, to the East, Rimini and the Adriatic Coast. I truly regret losing those photos but feel very lucky that the most valuable ones, those of my family, were saved

San Marino

San Marino’s Municipalities,                             I Castelli del San Marino,                             (Source: Wikipedia)

As small as it is, the country is divided into 9 districts called castelli, castles, including the city and capital, San Marino. My Zia lives in the municipality called Domagnono and our family owned a farm in the Castello di Montegiardino. Don’t let what appears to be relatively short distances between the locales fool you. The country sits atop the Apennines and the terrain is hilly, at best. My cousins, and especially my Zia, were fearless behind the wheels of their cars, day or night. I, on the other hand, white knuckled it on the way into — or was it “up to”? — and out of — “down from”? — the Republic. (Have I mentioned my fear of heights?) They all did their best to show me all the country’s sites, as well as those places having special meaning for my family. We even managed to spend an afternoon at the beach, having dinner with my cousin and her family at their beach-front restaurant in the coastal village of Riccione, a suburb of Rimini.

Before I knew it, I was packing up the car and driving to Florence. (Unbeknownst to my family, the flat owners were already calling me for an estimated arrival time.) I did promise them all, however, that I would be returning, hopefully with a sibling or two in tow. Guaranteed, it won’t take another 40 years to do it!

Here, then, are a few of the photos from this leg of the journey. Forgive the poor quality but these are quite literally some of the only photos of the countryside that I have.

(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

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The government occupies part of the old fortress atop Monte Titano, and there’s a walk that will take you up along the old wall to the tower, giving you spectacular views of the countryside. Along with the castle, you’ll also find a church and a museum on the mountaintop, while much of the surrounding area is devoted to the tourist trade. At one time, collectors the World-over flocked to San Marino to purchase the Republic’s postage stamps. With the advent of email and social media, however, the stamp market and its tourist industry have fallen on hard times. Looking around town — and ignoring the fantastic views — there’s not much to distinguish this tourist area from dozens around the globe except for one thing: the incline. These photos do not do it justice and I cannot imagine making my way around town when the streets are snow-covered in Winter.

By the way, see those 2 beige awnings in the lower left of the photo on the right? That was once a leather goods shop that my Zia and Zio owned and operated. When they retired, the hotel bought the space and, after some renovations, it now serves as the hotel’s main entrance.

S. Marino Tourist Area*     *     *

During WW2, as the Allies worked their way up the Italian peninsula, the people of the region took refuge in the area’s railroad tunnels that had been dug through the mountains. Here is one such tunnel in which a couple thousand people lived, along with their farm animals for months until the War had moved further North and they could safely return home. Midway through, this tunnel has a large opening, providing the people back then some much-needed fresh air, and today, a beautiful view to Rimini and the Adriatic coast.

Tunnel and View*     *     *

Now for a bit of family history. Towards the end of San Marino’s participation in WW2, an Italian pilot was shot down over my Grandparents’ farm. They gave him shelter in a pit they dug under a large wood pile. (I was taught that it was under a chicken coop.) Using a rope, my Nonna would lower food and drink to him through a hole, at about 1:00 AM every night, until it was safe for him to come out of hiding — well over a month later. This picture shows what was once part of my family’s farmland. In the distance, on the left, is a white building. Before it is where the wood pile once was.

Zio's HideawayI bet you’re wondering what happened to the pilot. After the War, he stayed on at the farm and later married my Dad’s Sister. They eventually immigrated to New York City, where they raised their 3 children.

Next stop: Florence

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

couscous 2They sure took their time getting here but Summer temperatures have finally arrived. For me that means my stove and oven are used less as the temps rise. Today we’ll look back to a no-cook salad that has couscous as its base. Whether you serve it for a light lunch or tasty side, you won’t be disappointed. You can see the recipe by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Spaghetti alla ChitaraSpaghetti alla Chitarra all’Amatriciana

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Roasted Mackerel with Potatoes and Tomatoes

Scombro Arrostito con Patate e Pomodori

Mackerel ServedI’m back and the Kitchens are open! Thank you all for the birthday and well-wishes. I had a wonderful birthday and, though there’s more to come, I’ll leave that reveal for a later date. As for my much neglected projects, though not all are done, I’ve made good progress and am very pleased.

Some of you may be interested to learn that I’ve added a “Translation” page to the blog. You can find it listed above, between the “Home” and “Welcome” pages, or, if you’re on my blog’s homepage, there’s a translate button on the right. Click on either link and you’ll go to a page that will offer you a translation of my blog in your choice of 52 languages. Note that less than perfect results my be returned, especially when colloquialisms and slang are encountered, as is the case with most universal-type translators. Considering that I am barely fluent in English, I’ve no way of knowing whether an individual translator is working properly. Should you find that a particular language isn’t translated clearly, please let me know and, if need be, I’ll remove that translator from the list.

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Today’s recipe is another that resulted from a walk around the Italian market. My walk started at the fish counter, as it always does, where the monger pointed out his “very fresh” mackerel. That’s code for “buy it” and I did without a second thought. While he cleaned my fish, I walked over to the produce area and bought some potatoes and tomatoes. A few minutes later, having grabbed some olive salad and herbs, my dinner for that night was all set. Unfortunately, I still had a full shopping list to buy but a fresh mackerel is one impulse buy that I don’t mind purchasing.

This dish couldn’t be easier to prepare. Stick some potatoes on a baking sheet, roast them for a spell, add some vegetables, put the fish on top, and bake until done. In the meantime, prepare a salad, slice some bread, and open a bottle of wine — if you haven’t already. Not many dinners are easier to prepare than this one.

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Raw Mackerel*     *     *

Roasted Mackerel with Potatoes and Tomatoes Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs (680 g) mackerel, cleaned and scaled
  • 1.5 lbs (680 g) new potatoes, halved or quartered for uniform size
  • olive oil
  • 1 red onion, cut into eighths
  • 1 lb (455 g) cherry tomatoes
  • 6 oz (170 g) olive salad (misc olives, carrots, celery, peperoncini), roughly chopped
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 2 to 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • salt & pepper, to taste

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M - Veggies 2*     *     *

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 450˚ F (230˚ C).
  2. Place potatoes and onions in a large bowl, sprinkle with olive oil, and gently mix till evenly coated.
  3. Place on baking sheet, season with salt & pepper, and roast on center rack in pre-heated oven for 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile place tomatoes and olive salad into same bowl used for potatoes and onions. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and season with salt & pepper.
  5. Place rosemary and thyme into the fish’s cavity.
  6. After 20 minutes, reduce oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C). Remove potatoes from oven, stir, and add tomatoes & olive salad to the tray. Place mackerel on top of vegetables, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt & pepper, and place in oven.
  7. Roast until fish is cooked, 20 to 30 minutes depending upon the thickness of the fish. When done, fish flesh should flake and be opaque when cut.

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Baked Mackerel *     *     *

Notes

I had originally intended to use lain olives in this recipe but that marinated olive salad looked too good to pass up. You may prefer to use just the olives or, for that matter, neither option.

I like my tomatoes to be a little firm when served. If you like them cooked more fully, add them to the roasting pan earlier.

I’ve prepared this dish using one, two, or three dressed mackerel. Although the preparation is the same, cooking times may vary and will usually be a few minutes less for the smaller fish.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Nonna2

Mine wasn’t the only birthday celebrated at the end of last month. My Cousin shared her birthday, the 26th, with our dear Nonna. Although we all have wonderful memories of her, one of my most favorite involves her in the kitchen — imagine that! — preparing me something very special. The dish was tripe, trippa, and you can learn how to prepare and serve it, as well as a little bit about this dear woman, by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Quail PreviewStewed Quail