adventure with vongole clams
[one bag of vongole clams; two ways of serving]
My foray into Fishes one evening after work led me walking away with a bag of vongole clams flown in that very morning from Italy. I must say I was definitely in the mood for trying something new. With the enthusiastic assistant giving me a classic Italian recipe off the top of his head, I couldn't resist paying premium price for these tasty morsels from the sea.
I was busy thinking about how I should go about with this project -- well, following a recipe IS a project for me since I hardly ever cook with a recipe -- when T went, "don't you have to like soak those clams in salt water for a couple of hours?"
This coming from someone doesn't cook and who has yet to make me the risotto that apparently was the one star dish honed during college days. I was skeptical but dished out my collection of cookbooks right away in search for the proper way to deal with my clams. Voila, sure enough, there it was, instructions to soak clams in salt water for a few hours to naturally release the sand and impurities trapped inside the shells.
I was thinking that one big bag of clams for a simple pasta dish for two just doesn't do it. I could save one third of it for another new culinary experiment I thought. So the next day I decided to tackle the signature spanish dish -- la paella. Truth is I have been procrastinating about putting the paella pan that came with the rental apartment to good use. And with Mark Bittman a.k.a. the Minimalist at the New York Times publishing a simple paella dish that cuts the laborious steps of the traditional cooking method and ingredients used down to just one third, I couldn't help but got hooked on the idea of putting aspirations into action.
The end result was an improvised version from the combined wisdom of the Minimalist and Penelope Casa, who has a classical Paella a la Valenciana in her cookbook - the Foods and Wines of Spain. Ingredient-wise, mine has tomatoes, chicken, and clams. We had a German vistor that day from Singapore and he had the honor of being the "official taster" for my ambitious tryout. Wasn't too bad I reckon. Everyone had a nice share of the dish that evening.
If you want to try it out yourself, here are the recipes.
Tagliatelle alla Vongele
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and diced finely
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
30 vongole or little neck clams (about 3 1/2 pounds)
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper (chili) flakes, plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup of white wine
12 ounces linguine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
sea salt and freshly milled pepper
Soak clams in salted water for a few hours before hand.
Cook pasta in a plenty of salted water. While pasta is cooking, in a wok or large skillet add half the oil and all the butter and saute garlic till fragrant.
Add washed clams and saute on medium-high heat. Add salt and black pepper and pepper flakes. Saute for another minute. Add white wine and keep stirring and let sauce reduce. About 2 mintues later (when majority of clams are open) add chopped parsley and cooked pasta.
Serve right away garnished with more pepper flakes and salt to taste and the remaining olive oil.
Quite Easy Paella
4 cups chicken bouillon
Half a whole onion
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges
4 scallions, chopped
1 medium onion, minced
3 clove garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp of saffron
2 teaspoons Spanish pimentón (smoked paprika), or other paprika
2 bay leaves, crumbled
Chicken (wings or legs)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2.5 cups Spanish or other short-grain rice
Minced parsley for garnish.
Lemon wedges for garnish
Heat broth with the saffron, pimentón and whole onion. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.
Remove onion and measure broth -- you need exactly 4 cups.
Preheat oven to 420 degrees. Put tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss to coat.
Cut chicken into small serving pieces -- Dry pieces well and sprinkle with salt. In a metal Paella pan, with about a 15 inch base, heat the oil. Add chicken pieces and fry over high heat until golden. Remove to a warm platter.
Add the chopped onion, scallions, garlic, and pimentos and saute until the onion is wilted. Stir in tomato paste, saffron if you are using it, and paprika and cook for a minute more.
Add rice to the pan and stir to coat it well with the oil. Sprinkle in the chopped parsley and the crumbled bay leaves. (You can make in advance up to this point.)
Stir in hot broth and the wine. Salt to taste. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, over medium high heat about 10 minutes.
Bury chicken in the rice. Add clams and mussels, pushing them into the rice, with the edge that will open facing up. Put tomato wedges on top of rice and drizzle with juices that accumulated in bowl. Put pan in oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes.
Check to see if rice is dry and just tender. If not, return pan to oven for another 5 minutes. If rice looks too dry but still is not quite done, add a small amount of stock or water (or wine).
When rice is ready, remove from the oven and let sit on top of the stove, lightly covered with foil, for about 10 minutes. To serve, decorate with lemon wedges and chopped parsley.