landlocked but determined…

April 14th, 2009 · 455 Comments

in less than three weeks i take off for nyc for the tri-annual mommy visit, haircut and restaurant go around. therefore all socializing over food has now come to a screeching halt and my already compromised caloric intake needs to come down even further in preparation for what inevitably becomes quite the food-centric getaway. until then i am TRYING VERY HARD to figure out a way to order light and not feel the need to eat everything. or drink too much wine. and still have dessert. but not over do it.

in other words i am going to attempt to not be me.
wish me luck with that…

but the other night, overall, i thought i did quite well. there were 6 of us for dinner and i was in my kitchen and in control of the menu. beforehand i had boldly told my friends. no nibbles or appetizers, no salad – or dessert. i’m serving one thing. and a loaf of crusty bread, which for the record i personally abstained from – as well as the impressive wines that my friends brought over, because i am not only disciplined and strong (albeit in small spurts), but obviously also a masochist.

under these circumstances, i knew whatever i made had to be pretty striking. i also knew i was going to do a seafood dish but couldn’t face the selection at nashville’s ‘whole foods’. i considered a few cioppino recipes and even glanced at julia’s bouillabaisse. but then i wandered over to suzanne goin’s ‘sunday suppers at lucques‘ and i spotted "the dish". page 268-9. mussels and clams with vermouth, cannellini beans and cavolo nero. reading through it, i was captivated by the ingredient list. this was so very my kind of food. for those of you that haven’t been paying attention, i gravitate towards simple italian food, stressing the quality of the ingredients – ad nauseam.

i called d’artagnen to ask who they considered to be their seafood equivalent and they reminded me of browne trading. the way i see that is: if it’s good enough for eric ripert and daniel boulud, then i’m in. so i ordered my fish from them, which turned out to be a good move on my part. after speaking to nick for awhile about what was freshest and best, that’s about when i i decided to veer from the recipe, if only by upping the seafood ante. goin called for using clams and mussels, and to that i added 3 small lobsters, scallops, haddock and the last of the wonderful maine sweet shrimp, which was to be used as a garnish due to its inability to take much heat. i also doubled the recipe. because you just can’t have too much of a good thing…

and that, dear readers? is the very philosophy that gets me into trouble…

the largest serving vessel in my home is my 16" wok. i rarely use it because, well, it’s just huge. but this was the perfect thing for this dish and i was grateful that i had it around.

everything was piled into the wok which filled it to the brim – and somehow our italian seafood dinner looked quite at home, all nestled in the unfamiliar asian skillet. i wish i’d been more ‘on it’ with my photo’s, but once that seafood was ready to rock and roll, i had other things on my mind. so cary, being the good boyfriend, grabbed the camera and took some shots.

the recipe is both straight forward and detailed  – a testament to goin’s book which leaves very little room for any error with a lot of very helpful techniques and explanations… go and buy this book. seriously. it’s a great one…

the beans were of course from rancho gordo. they were soaked for a few hours, although goin throws hers in dry. the bean component was made the night before and i’ve got to tell you, it is beyond truly outstanding.

here’s how it works: toast 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds until brown and then pound them roughly in a mortar. in a medium pot heat 1/4 cup of olive oil and when hot, add to that a sprig of rosemary and a crumbled chili de arbol. sizzle for a minute and then add the fennel seed and a cup or so of diced onion along with a tablespoon of thyme leaves. sauté until the onion is wilted. add the beans and coat them for about a minute and then add water to 3" above the beans. bring to a boil and the reduce heat. place a paper towel over the beans to keep them submerged and add 2 teaspoons kosher salt after about 30 minutes (mine took longer to soften) and then cook adding water as necessary. you want to have a good amount of bean liquid that is starchy and rich. because this is THE STUFF that makes the final dish sing. there’s no fish stock used in this recipe.

and even if you don’t make this dish then just make these beans. and serve them with roast chicken. or with a poached egg and broccoli rabe. the beans themselves will knock you over. you will make them and then you will love me because i will have opened your eyes to greatness. they way i see it, it’s the very least i could do...

i also must tell you that these little sweet maine shrimp are very delicious little suckers, but you have to treat them with the utmost respect. too much heat and they turn to a mealy mush. after the dish was done and off the heat, these were placed on top of the rest of the shellfish and the residual warmth was all that was needed.

a perfect 1990 barbera sits beside a grassy tuscan olive oil. one bowl to eat from, and another for the shells…

a precarious balance – a profoundly visual metaphor for life…

the kale gets blanched in salted water and wrung out and cut into ribbons. olive oil goes into a (wide not tall) hot pot followed by diced red onion, a bulb of chopped fennel, tons of sliced garlic, chiles, rosemary, thyme and salt and pepper. then the greens for about 10 minutes until they break down – and then the beans along with the liquid. after a few minutes add the clams and then a couple of minutes later the vermouth and then the mussels. let it all steam until the shells open and then stir in a few tablespoons of butter. i forgot to taste for seasoning but i lucked out. it was just right.

when i make this again, and i will, i think i’ll keep it less busy. the lobster was wonderful but extraneous, the haddock got knocked around by the shells and shredded – making for a heartier broth, but really in the end was unnecessary. the browne trading’s scallops were fresh and phenomenal, as was all the seafood. they’d be a do-over for sure, if only because cary loves them best.

goin’s ‘sunday suppers’ is a seasonal book – from market to table. this recipe was listed for fall, which although we’re completely faced in the other direction, it still felt right on a cool and rainy friday evening. we talked, they drank, and we laughed our asses off for 4 hours. everyone chipped in on the seafood tab which eased the $ load and we couldn’t have had a better seafood dinner anywhere in nashville.

and i’ll venture to guess that no one missed dessert in the least…

Tags: beans · fish · greens · seafood

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