Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Nostalgia, with bread

I think we're almost there.... Sure, it was raining all afternoon, but it was sunny all morning, and the trees look like this:

Spring, right?

But the clearest sign is that last weekend was the first Farmer's Market of the season - I think winter is on its way out. I neglected to bring my camera along, but I'll try to at some point in the coming weeks, to explore the beginning of the Market, as opposed to the end.

Pickings were a little slim, yet: leeks and potatoes and radishes and rhubarb were the main players. (Despite their appearances at the grocery stores, asparagus and strawberries have yet to make their proper entrance).

I nearly missed the real prize, only catching it on our way towards the streetcar. I happened to glance over at the fish stall on the way by and spotted these, one of my absolute favourite things to eat in the entire world:

That's right. It's a clam.

I have something of a childhood fondness for clams. This might seem strange, what with my apparent ties to the desert and New Mexican food. But I was born in the Bay Area, and got my introduction to good food early on. There's a place in San Francisco, across the bay from where my family lived, called Tommaso's North Beach. I don't remember much about it - just a downstairs entrance and a somewhat cavernous dining room... but I remember eating clams with white wine and garlic and loving every single bite.

We loved every single bite of these, too. The sauce is basic - a fragrant broth of white wine, plenty of garlic and a sprinkling of chile flakes and a little lemon juice at the end. Don't bother with utensils - the clams are best right out of the shell - and make sure you have plenty of good bread on hand to soak up the juices. (You can wash your hands later - trust me, it's worth it).

Steamed Clams with White Wine and Garlic
inspired by Tommaso's North Beach, adapted from the Joy of Cooking

Serves 2, if you both like clams and this is the extent of your dinner.

First, a note on storing/cleaning clams: Whatever you do, make sure your clams can breathe! Put them in a bowl and cover them with a damp towel and store them in the fridge. An hour or two (or more, depending on how sandy they are) before you plan on cooking them, soak the clams in a bowl of cold water in the fridge to clean them. Drain before using. If their shells are very dirty, scrub them with a vegetable brush.

2 pounds hardshell clams
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic (a couple of large cloves)
a couple of generous pinches of chile flakes (enough for a tiny bite)
the leaves from a couple of sprigs of thyme (you could omit this, I had some on hand - didn't think it was especially noticeable, but I have this thing for adding thyme to anything and everything)
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste
bread, for serving

Over medium heat, in a large, deep skillet, combine olive oil, garlic, chile flakes and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, just until the garlic begins to colour. This will only take a few minutes. Add the clams and increase the heat to medium-high, stirring constantly, for about a minute. Add the wine, cover the skillet and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until all (or most) of the clams have opened. (The heat you use may actually vary from stove to stove - my electric stove is terrible and treacherous and slow to change, so I usually stick closer to medium-high. High is a little scary.)

Using a slotted spoon and working quickly, scoop the clams out of the pan and into bowls. Turn the heat up to high and add the lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let the sauce boil for a few minutes and reduce slightly, then pour it over the clams.

Serve, with plenty of bread and napkins, and a bowl for the shells.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

At long last

I've had it.

It's spring, right? So why is it 36 degrees and hailing daily? I'm talking drifts of hail, people, ankle-deep in the courtyard of our apartment building. (Perhaps I exaggerate about the ankle-deep, but not the rest of it - I promise!) In New Mexico, it's 70 and sunny, and all I know is that I'm ready for that here. I'm ready for summer, really, with the sun setting at nine, and the farmer's market over-flowing with berries and tomatoes and corn.... I hardly know what to cook these days, since everything I'm craving is still appallingly out of season.

But we still need dinner, and this has taken me far too long to post. I haven't be able to think of anything much to say about it - there was no story to it, per se, not necessarily any poetry. The process of creating and cooking this was simple, as was the reason for doing so: we were hungry. This is our main reason for eating, right? Followed closely, hopefully, usually, by pleasure. I had mushrooms, shallots, goat cheese and baking supplies on hand, and we're trying to be budget-conscious these days. So here is dinner, at long last.

Crepes with Mushrooms, Caramelized Shallots and Goat Cheese

I guess you could say that it is inspired by my favourite savoury crepe at Le Happy - caramelized onion and goat cheese - but I have yet to meet a dish that isn't improved by the addition of mushrooms. (I believe I illustrated my love of mushrooms pretty thoroughly with this post).

Serves two.

for the crepes:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 large egg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Alternatively, use a full-sized blender or food processor.
Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes (or however long you need to prepare the filling).

for the filling:

8 ounces mushrooms
2 shallots
2 ounces (ish) goat cheese, at room temperature (whatever looks good, really - I didn't actually measure this)
olive oil/butter
thyme (fresh or dried, whatever you have on hand - fresh is better, dried is all I had at the time)
freshly ground pepper

Chop the shallots finely. In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat, melt a little butter and olive oil together. Add shallots and cook until soft and brown. Remove from pan and set aside. Raise the heat to medium-high, and if necessary, melt a little more butter and oil in the pan. Add the mushrooms, saute until done and sprinkle with thyme, salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Reintroduce shallots to pan, then remove from heat and set aside.

In a crepe pan or a non-stick pan, melt a little butter over medium-high heat. Whisk the crepe batter to make sure it is smooth, then pour a couple of tablespoons' worth into the pan. This is your test crepe - once it is done, the pan should be right for the next ones. Let it cook until bubbling on top, and very lightly browned on the edges , then slide out of the pan. You can flip it, if you want to, but it's not at all necessary. Cook the remaining batter in this way, using about a 1/4 cup of batter per crepe - you should get two, with maybe a tiny bit leftover.

If the filling is cold, reheat it briefly. Put each crepe on a plate, top with half of the mushroom and shallot mixture, then crumble half of the goat cheese into each. Fold over, eat and enjoy.

Oh, and because it's been too long - a gratuitous kitty picture.

Cats in a red chair, and plenty of mushrooms and goat cheese - I guess life could be worse.