February 23, 2009
I had a really fun time cooking with my new friends, Ross and Jimmy, in their beautiful kitchen. It was a cooking class (with me) for a few of their friends --a gift for Jimmy's birthday.
Having grown up in Florida, Jimmy loves seafood and wanted to make that the basis of the dinner. Having grown up in Colorado, I am not a seasoned seafood cook, but I have spent a lot of time in Italy where seafood is plentiful. I find that the best recipes, which happen to be mostly Italian in my world, are the ones that are the simplest to prepare and highlight the quality of the minimal ingredients.
With this is mind, I chose to do a first course of spaghetti 'allo scoglio'. A seafood pasta eaten all over Southern Italy, it is named after the rocks that jut out from the sea, containing lots of tasty creatures clinging to their surface--clams, mussels, shrimp and squid... I could not get mussels that day, so I settled for shrimp, littleneck clams and bay scallops.
The sauce is a simple red sauce. Start with onions and garlic and sautée in olive oil, then add 1/2 cup white wine and let it reduce a few minutes. Then add tomatoes -- fresh or canned - or a combination of both, plus 1/2 cup of clam broth (I purchase this and it comes in a bottle found in most grocery stores). Let the sauce cook for a bit over moderate heat.
A key ingredient in this sauce which I think is key for any seafood pasta is the heat that a hot oil brings, either added directly into the sauce, or afterwards when serving --or both, which is what we did. To make it, simply mix 1/2 cup of olive oil with 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, 2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper and 2 tsp of sea salt.
For our second course, I had picked up some beautiful swordfish steaks at the market and knew that would be a treat. We made a lemon-oregano-olive oil marinade for the fish that gave it just the delicate flavors it needed. This light, lemony sauce for fish comes from Sicily where lemons are a prized fruit and sometimes reach the size of small footballs. They are gorgeous! But lemons in our market now, while not the Sicilian variety, are still big and fragrant. It's the perfect time to use them.
We let the fish sit in the marinade for an hour before broiling it alongside some simple yellow potatoes, roasted in olive oil, sea salt and rosemary. That's it! As you can see, these classes are not about learning fancy techniques or secrets --just simple, everyday dishes that most people can prepare using high-quality, seasonal ingredients.
For dessert: a cake. Again, a simple cake, but one that tastes and sounds like it took a lot more work: Almond cake with pears and creme anglaise, from a F&W recipe I found around the holidays. It's like a spongecake, light and airy, only made with almond flour which gives it something special. Substitute pears for anything at other times of the year--raspberries, apricots, apples or lemon custard--and it's your go-to cake!
(see a picture here)
What a fun night! I loved this class--good people, good food and great conversation. Being in the kitchen together with friends is what it's all about. Thanks to all of my new friends: Ross, Jimmy, Katie, Susan and Beverly. I hope to see you in the kitchen again soon!
ps: A thank you to Jimmy for the photos!