Tale of Two Meals


Tale of Two Meals

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

I must say that I haven’t been cooking too much at home since I’ve been here. I try to keep a very active social life which means often going out for aperitivo which easily serves the function of a light dinner as well as an opportunity to meet people and speak more italian. However May 1st was different. It’s labor day for most of the world. The american fear of anything that hints of collective action or “gasp” socialism has led to our declaring our own labor day in the fall. Stupidity.

In any case since labor day fell on a Thursday a lot of people took the “ponte” (bridge day) to make a long weekend so just about everyone I know here in Bologna, including Cesarina, was out of town. I stocked up on a few items including some of the artichokes that they have here so I made spaghetti with carciofi (artichokes). It’s really pretty easy with the little artichokes since they don’t have a choke to dig out. Take of the stiff outer leaves, trim the stem end, cut of the some of the other end, cut in half, slice thin and put them in acidulated water. Since I didn’t have a lemon I used some white wine vinegar which worked just fine. Saute some garlic until golden, add the drained artichokes, saute for awhile, add a half glass or so of water, cover and braise over low heat for 20 minutes or until quite tender. Check occasionally and add water if it starts to get too dry. Cook the spaghetti a little less than al dente, drain and add to the sauce, mix it well while it cooks for a little while more (maybe a minute) to absorb the flavor of the sauce, put in a bowl, top with whatever grating cheese that you have (best would be pecorino romano) but since I only had parmegiano that was it. Eat and enjoy.

The artichokes here are purple but the taste is about the same

The artichokes here are purple but the taste is about the same

The ingredients, at least most of them

The ingredients, at least most of them

Artichokes added to other ingredients - don't forget a little salt

Artichokes added to other ingredients – don’t forget a little salt

We be braising

We be braising

Cooked and tender

Cooked and tender

Add the spaghetti and mix

Add the spaghetti and mix

Enjoy - artichokes are the enemy of wine. Beer is a better choice

Enjoy – artichokes are the enemy of wine. Beer is a better choice

Second meal. Friday it was raining cats and dogs (stava piovendo a cantinelle) so I decided to skip the usual Friday night aperitivo. I told Cesarina that I was going to stay home and I would walk down to the local pescheria and buy some clams and we could make spaghetti with clam sauce. She said “eviva!” (yipee!). So I bought the clams. These are a type that I’ve never seen, at least in a fish market, in the U.S. They’re called vongole verace (something like “genuine/real clams”) and are significantly smaller than any I’ve seen in the states but carry a lot of the sea with them in their little shells. The recipe is not really that difficult but I’m glad that Cesarina was there to add her expertise. First put the clams in cold water with salt added to approximate their sea environment and mix them around once in a while. This is about a 2 hour operation. The purpose is to give them a chance to eject any sand and, uh, other waste that they have carried with them. It works. Then the clams go in a deep enough skillet or saute pan to hold them all and covered over moderate heat for 4-5 minutes until they are all open. In our case they all opened so there were no dead ones. It’s amazing the amount of liquid that will be present in the pan. Remove the clams and shell most of them reserving a few to add visual interest to the final product. Start cooking the spaghetti (or linguine). Save the liquid from the pan (VERY important) , just wipe out the pan with a paper towel saute some minced garlic and minced parsley in enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of the pan and if desired (and we desired) a pinch of peperoncini (red pepper flakes), add a little wine and reduce, strain thoroughly the liquid from the clams, add it and reduce it a bit over high heat. A minute or so before the pasta is a little firmer than al dente reduce the heat and add all of the clams plus some more minced parsley. Drain the pasta and add to the pan and stir well to mix. A minute later put in bowls, pour some good white wine and savor one of the best pasta dishes on the planet. Adding cheese would be a grievous sin. Don’t even think about it!

 

In the pan and ready to eat

In the pan and ready to eat

Cesarina ready to dig in

Cesarina ready to dig in

Oh yes, I almost forgot. When I was at the pescheria I saw a strange looking mound of stuff. I took a closer look and, what the hell, tiny fish?! This must be some kind of specialty in the south (the owner must be Napoletano). He said you beat an egg, mix with the fish, and fry briefly in hot oil. I was a little skeptical but like to try new things. Cesarina had never seen these either so we were both a bit baffled so I suggested that we try them two ways as an antipasto. The first way was like the fish guy told me and the second just bread them in a little flour and fry. The first  was, you might say a “special” taste. It certainly had more of a taste of the fish but Cesarina didn’t like it at all while I found it interesting but not that great. We both liked the second method but of course who doesn’t like salty oily snacks.

What are those tiny things?

What are those tiny things?

OMG they're tiny fish!

OMG they’re tiny fish!

 

 

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