Monday, December 31, 2012

Spaghetti with Clams - a rollercoaster ride!

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Happy New Year, tastebuds!
I’ve come across Spaghetti alle Vongole - spaghetti with clams - many times in many novels as the one dish the busy heroine or hunky hero can manage to throw together however undomesticated they are. 

Light but luxurious, comforting but with a chilli kick, I first tasted this dish in Venice where my taste buds thought they had died and gone to pasta heaven. It is a bowlful of loveliness that is greater than the sum of its parts and takes longer to describe than it does to make. Right now, it answers my craving for lighter food after the excesses of Christmas.

You’ll need a large frying pan with a lid, and with this dish, timing is everything so make sure to have everything prepared in advance as once the pan goes on the heat it is a bit of a rollercoaster ride to the plate.

To send two sets of taste buds to heaven you will need…

150g dried spaghetti
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped celery stick
1 tablespoon finely chopped celery leaf (if available)
2 fat cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli, very finely chopped
2 fresh (ripe) tomatoes (plum tomatoes if possible), diced
500g fresh clams, rinsed in several changes of cold water to remove any grit
150mls dry white wine
a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley

Fast food!

1.                 First start to cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the pack. Working backwards, you want to start the sauce 5 minutes before the spaghetti is cooked.
2.                 In the frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the chopped celery stick (and celery leaf if using), along with the garlic and chilli. Cook for about a minute or until the garlic just begins to take on a golden tinge. Now add the tomatoes, cooking for a further minute.
3.                 Turn up the heat and add the clams and white wine, covering the pan with the lid. Shake the pan back and forth occasionally to make sure the clams are cooking evenly in the fragrant liquid and steam. They will take about 3 minutes to cook - once they are cooked they will spring open. Turn off the heat and discard any clams that haven’t opened.
4.                 Meanwhile, the spaghetti should be ready. (Test it to make sure it is not too chewy - if it is, give it another minute and test again). Drain and add to the frying pan along with the chopped parsley. Using two forks, toss the spaghetti in the clam sauce. Taste and add salt and black pepper only if necessary. Allow the spaghetti to absorb some of the delicious juices for a minute or so before serving in warm pasta bowls.
5.              Sigh contentedly.

Right, that’s it from me for 2012. Wishing you and yours the happiest New Year, full of wonderful things. See you in 2013!

Hester x

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Cointreau Cumberland – a saucy little number !

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It’s funny how Cumberland Sauce has ended up being a quintessentially English sauce when it has its roots in Germany – a bit like the royal family, you might say.
Traditionally, it comprises port and redcurrant jelly with a few other bits and pieces - ground ginger, powdered mustard etc. It should be thin, and sweet-ish, a pretty ruby colour with the gentle kick of a retired can-can dancer.
Let’s go with the dancer analogy: If I was a critic watching this sauce prance around the kitchen I would scribble the following notes:
A little too thin to carry the role... a touch too sweet... needs more attack...
Thicker than the traditional sauce - and golden rather than ruby - this saucy little Cointreau-laced number is more than able to high-kick its way across your taste buds and is well able to stand up to rich pâtés or terrines. (It is also delicious with the inevitable cold turkey and ham.)

For a sauce with more attitude you will need...

1 lemon
1 large orange
200g plum jam (or similar flavour, not too dominant)
4 tablespoons Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
10g fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
100mls fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard  

1.           First, using a vegetable peeler, thinly peel the zest from the lemon and the orange, leaving as much of the white pith behind. Trim the peelings with a sharp knife to remove any of this bitter pith that still clings to the zest. Cut the peel into 4cm lengths trimming the edges so they are straight (this looks nicer in the finished sauce). You can discard the uneven trimmings. Cut the strips of zest into the thinnest shreds you can manage. Put them in a small bowl and cover with boiling water to soften the flavour.
2.           While the zest is soaking, place the plum jam in a small saucepan, with the Cointreau, ginger, lemon juice and orange juice. Heat gently until simmering and allow to bubble gently for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will help evaporate some of the alcohol.
3.           Pass the sauce through a strainer to remove the ginger and any fruity pulp from the jam and fruit juices. Taking a little of the strained sauce, added it to the mustard, mixing until smooth. Return this mixture to the sauce. Drain the shredded zest and pat with kitchen paper to remove any excess water before adding to the sauce. Leave to cool. 

I particulary love this sauce with this ridiculously easy chicken liver pâté.
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