Sunday, July 29, 2007

Littleneck Clams Gone to Glory

A more devoted blogger would have taken a picture of a bowl heaped with tonight's pasta with clams, but I'm annoyingly obsessive about eating pasta while it's piping hot, so I didn't even look for the camera until the clams were a delicious memory.

J. is reading Bill Buford's “Heat” and decided we should make linguine with clams, Babbo-style. In a large sauté pan I cooked onions, garlic, chili flakes and bacon (instead of the suggested pancetta; I'm still in the land of marvelous beaches and mediocre food stores) in olive oil and then added white wine and butter to make what Buford describes as a “messy buttery mush.”
In a large pot of heavily salted boiling water I cooked the linguine for about five minutes and then dumped the clams into the buttery mush pan . When the linguine was a minute or so from the al dente stage, I pulled the linguine from its pot – letting some of the starchy cooking water cling to the strands—heaped it on top of the clams and added a large handful of minced parsley. A couple quick tosses and then I followed Buford's instructions to “let the whole thing cook for another half minute or so, swirling, swirling until the sauce streaks across the bottom of the pan; splash it with olive oil and sprinkle it with parsley: dinner."
And, I'd add: delicious.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I'm off at an ungodly hour tomorrow morning for the East Coast and two weeks "down the shore." Although our menus will revolve mostly around hamburgers, corn, Jersey tomatoes, Jenny Lind cantaloupes and peaches sweeter than any ever found in Georgia, I'll also be fixing this sort-of souffle. The recipe sounds awful, but the results truly are tasty and the ingredients are easy to find in Ocean City's rather limited food emporiums.
Don't try to improve this by substituting posher ingredients -- creme fraiche for the sour cream and artisan cream cheese for the Philly briquettes just produce a souffle (and I use the term loosely here; it's more like a puffy pudding)that lacks the original's retro-charm.
Because I still must pack and pay bills and deadhead the roses, I'm going to take a shortcut and reprint the recipe from a write-up I did for the Chronicle's FOOD section last year.

Speedy Cheese Souffle

I like to serve this with a large green salad that includes some bitter greens to play against the souffle's slightly sweet undertone. I usually use a 13- by 9-inch ceramic oval dish, but any shallow dish will work as long as the souffle batter fills it no more than 1-inch deep.

Butter for greasing baking dish

Fine-grated Parmesan cheese for coating baking dish

6 ounces cream cheese, preferably at room temperature

2/3 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons honey

Salt to taste

3 egg yolks

4 egg whites

Preheat oven to 375°. Generously butter a 10-cup baking dish and coat it with a thin layer of the grated Parmesan. Put the dish in the refrigerator while you prepare the souffle mixture.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sour cream, honey and a pinch of salt. Add the egg yolks and beat until mixture is smooth.

In a separate bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add another pinch of salt and continue beating until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Do not over-beat.

Stir about a third of the beaten egg whites into the cream cheese mixture and then gently, but thoroughly, fold in the rest. Ease this mixture into the prepared baking dish, set the dish in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 350°. Bake 17-20 minutes, until the souffle is puffed, set and golden brown on top. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Roasting Lamb; Eating Crow

I said: "We absolutely are NOT going to cook a whole lamb. On the beach. With 35 people coming for Bastille Day dinner."
He said: "Yes, we are."
I said: "The meat will be burnt in some parts and raw in others. And every dog in Santa Cruz county will be racing down the beach to attack the carcass."
He said: "Relax. I'll handle it."
(In this marriage "relax" means "stop your yammering because my mind is made up.")

The yammering, of course, continued. It accelerated as I fretted over whether UPS would deliver the lamb in time. It veered dangerously close to whining as I helped lug a 40-pound carton from house to car to beach house. And then I gave up and shut up, other than to ask, "WHY do you want to do this?"
"Because it's a challenge," I was told.

Should anyone want to undertake a similar challenge, I'd urge the rental of a professional grill with motorized spit. Do as I say; not as He did. Our lamb roasted on a MacGuyver-like contraption of two pieces of 3/4-inch T-top water pipe driven into the sand with a five-foot length of hollow, square steel rod threaded through the T-tops.

Securing the lamb onto the spit required sewing, balancing and cursing. Turning the spit immediately overwhelmed the wimpy little motor borrowed from our home grill. Instead, someone had to sit by the fire and hand-turn the beastie every five minutes. For five hours.

And the result? Some of the juiciest, tastiest lamb I've ever eaten -- redolent with the rosemary and garlic sewn into the carcass's cavity and steeped in the olive oil and lemon juice marinade.
A triumph, damnit. Murmurings of "a pig next year" already have me biting my tongue; yammering would be futile.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Whisk to the Rescue

Browning butter: it sounds simple but the task often frustrated me. Let us not enumerate the pounds of butter I watched turn from pale tan to bitter black. Let us further not enumerate the attendant curse words. When I discovered an article in Gourmet in which the author suggested watching for the butter to start bubbling and roiling and then whisking the hell out of it, I figured I had nothing to lose but yet another stick of butter.
It worked like a charm.
Now I am the Queen of Perfectly Browned Butter. Bring me your steamed lobster, your fish fillets, your broccolini yearning to be free. I lift my whisk beside the heated pan.

Is there some technical reason why this works? Beats me. Perhaps it’s just a case of making the cook stay pan-side and attentive. I care not for Alton Brown-like explanations; I care only that luscious, nutty-brown butter is now reliably in my repertoire.

Call brown butter by its French name – beurre noisette -- and combine it with ground almonds, egg whites, sugar and flour and you’re ready to bake the sublime little French teacakes called financiers. You’ll find a foolproof recipe on one of my favorite food blogs: “In the Kitchen and On the Road with Dorie” and in her book “Paris Sweets.” Be warned: Reading Greenspan’s blog is as addictive as eating financiers.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

It's All About the Garnish

After only a few bites of this luncheon entree at Le Fumoir in Paris, I wrote in my travel diary: "fresh thyme: terrif. with zucchini" and "artichoke fritters as side dish."
The couscous-stuffed zucchinis were napped with a thyme-filled foam. I'm not usually a foam fan, but here it added a lightness often missing in vegetarian dishes. I won't be playing around with foams in my own kitchen, but as the relentless zucchini plants slither far and wide in our garden, I'll be picking thyme for zucchini sautes and cakes rather than automatically reaching for the basil.

Anything to deal with the relentlessly abundant zucchini. I try to practice my own form of zucchini planned parenthood by using the flowers before they develop any further, but the resident gardener has caught on to that tactic and become ardently pro-zucchini-life.

As for those delicious little artichoke fritters: they set me off on a quest for the perfect fritter batter. This will be a summer-long project -- trying Italian OO flour, rice flour, flat beer, sparkling bottled water and other suggestions I've collected. When I experimented with tempura-ish green beans recently, I followed a tip from British chef Angela Hartnett and kept the bowl of batter nestled in a slightly larger bowl of ice water as I worked. According to Hartnett a colder batter is a lighter batter.
Her new cookbook -- "Angela Hartnett's Cucina" -- is excellent. A recipe for chicory, golden raisin and green bean salad is going into the regular rotation here, as is her broad bean, pancetta and courgette salad. After all, a courgette by any other name...