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Monday, July 24, 2017

House Special - My Rules of Seafood Pasta

Seafood pasta is the signature dish of our household, with Linguine and White Clam Sauce inarguably holding the top spot. Still I am at heart, a lover of variety. That's why especially in summer when fresh fish most appeals to me, I like to change things up a bit and create different variations of shellfish over pasta, whether in white (oil/broth based) or red "tomato-based" sauces. 

One thing is for sure, once you master the very forgiving technique of most basic seafood pastas, you are almost guaranteed a quick cooking meal that tastes and feels special. Just be sure you are choosing the absolute freshest fish you can find - it will make all the difference.


My latest Seafood Improvisation -Linguine Frutti di Mare in fresh Tomato Sauce 
with Clams, Calamari, Shrimp & Mussels, Photo: NK 

Below you'll find some of my rules and techniques for successful Seafood Pastas plus a few of our favorite recipes that you can try. Once you get the hang of it them you owe it to yourself to improvise one on your own. You'll be surprised at how easy it is. 

TIPS

1. Always clean, prep and chop non-fish ingredients ahead.  Seafood pastas are quick cooking so if you aren't prepared, your timing can be really thrown off. Chop all vegetable or herb ingredients in advance (usually garlic, shallot or onion, and a green like Italian Parsley). 

2. With shellfish, smaller is always better. Particularly with bivalves, the smallest Littleneck Clams or Mussels are the way to go. I always find them to be sweeter, fresher, and more flavorful. If you cannot personally select them just ask your fishmonger to select the smallest they can find. Shrimp is probably an exception to this rule, as the various sizes can all be delicious as long as they are fresh (and preferably, Wild & American). Consider your recipe in choosing the most ideal Shrimp size. 

3. Scrub and prepare all shellfish as directed - this is crucial because no one likes a sandy dish of food. Additionally, the process of cleaning is your opportunity to to do some additional quality control. I personally sniff every Clam, Shrimp or Mussel that I serve. If anything has a cracked shell, or smells a bit off, definitely toss it. Your nose will almost always steer you in the right direction. The internet is a wealth of information on cleaning your shellfish, and you'll find tricks for all varieties (for instance, Ina Garten submerges Mussels in cold water with flour to get them to unleash any sand or impurities). Your fishmonger may also be able to do timesaving things like peel and devein Shrimp. Even if you have to pay a little extra, it's nearly aways worth it. 

4. Salt the pasta water. This is the rule almost always, but I find it particularly important with Seafood Pasta which is usually delicately flavored and layered.

5. Don't overcook the pasta. Please. Al dente is crucial, and to get it perfect ever time, I time it!  Also, always reserve some pasta water to loosen the pasta if necessary or add to the sauce. 

6. Don't overcook the Shellfish. Noticing a theme here? Whether clams, mussels, here is my secret to success -- the second they open, take them out and set them aside in a bowl to catch the juices. To achieve this, you'll need to stand by your pot with tongs and work quickly, checking under the lid of the pot frequently. This is no big deal - Shellfish cooks so quickly and there's nothing worse than rubbery seafood (I'm talking to you, Calamari). 

7. This one is more a suggestion but I can't resist -- skip the Cheese! There's an unwritten rule that Italians don't put grated cheese on Seafood. I abide by this rule and it has never failed me. If you follow these steps, the flavor will be there - or there is not much a sprinkle of Salt can't fix. 

BASIC METHOD

1. Start your salted Pasta Water boiling. 

2. Add either Olive Oil or Salted Butter to a large, deep pan. (I actually like a mix of both - depending on how many you are serving, either one or two Tablespoons of each will do. Warm it over a medium flame taking care not to let it smoke. 

3. Add minced fresh Garlic, or finely chopped Onion or Shallots. These are always good aromatic base ingredients. Cook gently taking care not to burn, especially if we're talking Garlic. If you burn the Garlic, dump it and start over. 

4. Time for Liquid. For Clam Sauce I use Clam Juice and White Wine. White Wine, even in a red-based sauce, is preferably. It won't turn your Calamari or Onions purple. That's a plus. As an aside, if you are cooking Calamari, always cook the Tubes before the Tentacles, removing the Tubes before cooking the Tentacles, the reason being that the Tentacles have the purple pigment which will turn the whole dish purple - it'll taste fine but won't look as good.

5. Once your liquid is bubbling, add the shellfish -- Clams, Mussels, a mix, etc. If you are working with Calamari, Shrimp, or finned Fish, I usually choose to cook them in a separate pan and toss it all together towards the end b. If you are adding "red" or Tomato Ingredients (fresh chopped Tomatoes, Sauce, Paste, now would also be a good time to add it). Cover to steam, checking frequently. As Shellfish begin to open, pull them out one by one right away and place them in a bowl to catch the juices. Continue until all Shellfish has opened and discard any that take much longer than the rest. 

6. Want it more brothy? You can always add more wine! Also add Salt, Pepper, Crushed Red Pepper as needed at any point in the process, just be gentle with Salt as Seafood has natural salinity -- you can always add but never take back salt. If you over-salt, Lemon can some times counteract it. Speaking of Lemon, Lemon Juice and Zest are natural partners to "white" style Seafood Pasta preparations. 

7. When are you done? Your fish and Shellfish is all cooked, you have some sort of brothy sauce or tomato based sauce, and your Pasta is done and drained (with some pasta water reserved). Either plate the Pasta and top with Shellfish and Broth, or toss it all together in a large, high-sided pan. You can add a few drizzles of Oil and/or some Pasta Water to create more of a sauce (stirring consistently). Taste for Salt, Pepper and add fresh Herbs to finish-- my favorite is finely chopped Italian Parsley for versatility. Serve and enjoy! 

Some Recipes to Get You Started

Scallops With Sungold Tomato Pasta
Linguine With White Clam Sauce
Spaghetti Rigati With Lemony Calamari

Monday, June 26, 2017

Tried & True - Summer Menu Inspiration

I say it every year. Summer is my favorite time to cook. From simple yet elegant meals driven by the best seasonal ingredients (basically my goal all year), to desserts that practically make themselves, no time of year inspires me more. 


Neurotic Kitchen Summer Favorites 


As you think about your own cooking goals this summer, whether they include big parties or intimate entertaining, I thought it might be helpful to compile a list of just some of my tried and true summer dishes. You can rest assured that all of them have been made multiple times and, better yet, you can prep or make almost all in advance. This means you'll have more time to enjoy your parties, which is as it should be. I hope you enjoy and I wish you a season you can savor in more ways than one.  

Neurotic Kitchen's Summer Menu Ideas

"Surf" Mains/Starters/Sides
Turn any dish into a Surf & Turf with one of these

Grilled Marinated Calamari Salad - serve alongside Steak for an easy Surf & Turf, salad included, or as a great starter
Tuna Crudo with Peach & Jalapeno
Skewered Shrimp - Season the marinate large shrimp in flavors to your liking. Stack one serving (3-4 shrimp) and skewer them in two places for easy flipping. Grill on a piastra, pizza stone or grill basket
Clams in Cartoccio - these grillable hobo packs makes any main a Surf & Turf
Cooked Shrimp Ceviche
Fluke Ceviche
Rose Mignonette for Oysters
Margarita Oysters Verde (Salsa Verde, Lime & a splash of Tequila) 
Grilled Scallop Salsa Cruda


Pastas/Pizzas - App, First Course or Main

Lemon Pizza in Grill or Oven 
Scallop & Sungold Tomato Pasta

Menus:
Latin Inspired Menu

Mojo Marinated Skirt Steak
Yellow Rice
Watermelon Arugula Salad 
Or
Grilled Pineapple, Basil & Cucumber Salad
Corn with Jalapeno Lime Butter 

Florentine Inspired Menu

Prosciutto & Melon
Bistecca Florentina - T-bone Steak Marinated in Herbs on the Grill, 
Italian Corn
Summer Stone Fruit Panzanella Salad (use any seasonal stone fruit)
Assorted Gelati  

Classy American BBQ Menu
Israeli Couscous with Seasonal Additions  (ideas here, here or here
Tomato and White Onion Salad, Red Wine/Olive Oil/Oregano Dressing 
Corn on the Grill - just remove the silk, soak the corn a long while and grill in the husks
Ribeyes Marinated in Caper Vinaigrette then grilled 
Strawberry Pretzel & Gelato Sundae

Greek Inspired Menu

Shepherd's Salad (Any variation like Cucumber, Tomato, Scallion etc)
New Potatoes & Green Bean Salad with Vinaigrette
Leg of Lamb Marinated in Mint and Yogurt - Grilled
Assorted Sorbets (Mint, Lemon, etc) 

Other Easy Sides/Starters:

Sweet & Savory Watermelon Wedges 
Tomato Carpaccio
Grilled Peaches with Goat Cheese
Crab Salad served on or with Cucumber Chips
Grilled Asparagus on a Grill Basket or in Foil Packets 

Ready to Serve - Products We Love
Xotchitl Tortilla Chips 
Xotchitl Salsa
Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Il Laboratorio del Gelato - all flavors (especially the mascarpone used in our Pretzel Strawberry Sundae)
Talenti Gelato - Particularly Sicilian Pistachio
Spoonable Salted Caramel - Makes any Ice Cream special 
Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers - add to Ice Cream, serve with coffee, etc

Your favorite Pie a la Mode -- we like Briermere Farms Peach Cherry 


Monday, June 19, 2017

Ingredient Spotlight - Mint Simple Syrup

The summer heat is on full blast and you are, no doubt, in need of some refreshment. At least that's how I felt when I decided to use the overflowing bounty of my herb garden to jazz up a cold glass of Iced Tea - one of the many simple pleasures of the season, I am sure you'll agree. 

If you've ever included Mint to your garden, you know that it is prolific, growing and spreading like a weed as it takes over everything in its immediate proximity. Looking for a practical way to capitalize on this abundance, I decided to find a Mint Simple Syrup Recipe. The process took just about 15 minutes (including washing and chopping the Mint) and the results were delicious - Simple Syrup can be used in Cocktails (the possibilities are really endless) and Mocktails and as you've probably guessed, it was an awesome way to add extra flavor and sweetness to home-brewed Iced Tea. 

Mint Simple Syrup, Photo: NK 
 RECIPE from Epicurious

Bottom's up and enjoy! 

Monday, May 22, 2017

London Calling - Dinner At Ottolenghi & More

Last week's journey to London was our first trip across the pond in several years, which makes me all the more excited to chronicle some of the highlights as I've done for many of our past travels, domestic or international. For more on some of the highlights (food or otherwise) enjoyed during our previous jaunts, click below.   

London at Dusk, Photo: NK 
Montreal Family Trip for Four



Though the primary purpose of this trip was work, I am so glad that while I headed out to the office, scenically located near the Thames by gorgeous St.Paul's, my family was able to enjoy the sights in lovely London, even if we did have a few rainy days in between. As for myself, it was a pleasure to take in the city through adult eyes, having last experienced it decades ago as a ten year old. 

As far as culinary highlights, the undeniable winner was our trip to Ottolenghi in the Islington section of London. I have a real fascination with this amazing chef. From his gorgeous cookbooks packed with creative recipes built largely on Middle Eastern flavors, to his charming public persona and commitment to activism, there is nothing not to like about Yotam Ottolenghi. You'll find his restaurants in multiple locations across London, but if you make the trip to the Islington Ottolenghi, I can tell you you'll be greeted by a display window overflowing with sweet treats. Upon entering, you cannot help but feast your eyes on the counter offering an array of colorful and appetizing prepared foods. Continue even further and you'll discover the chic yet bustling communal tables in the back. 

The Ottolenghi dining format is small plates driven, allowing you to taste a great variety of creative preparations. I love this sort of meal as I am always wanting to sample more dishes than my stomach or wallet will allow. You'll also find lots of vegetable-centric dishes, so it's a great option for non meat eaters. 

Our dinner was mouthwatering start to finish, with almost all the dishes executed impeccably. Add to that friendly and approachable servers, and the fact that this was the scene of our first taste of orange wine (I cannot believe I've lived my life never discovering this wonder), and it was a memorably dining experience through and through. Luckily, I was able to discretely capture some photos for you. 
Heirloom Tomato Salad, Scallops with Mango, Roasted Beets with Tahini, Spiced Pork Chops and the most amazing Carrot Cake. All from Ottolenghi Islington, Photo: NK 
We surely enjoyed some other very solid meals, with a strong honorable mention going to Cote Brasserie (a reliable chain - we visited the charming Marylebone location) where we dined on quite a lovely bistro meal. Similarly, Osteria Antica Bologna in bustling Clapham (a quick overground rail trip outside London) offered a delicious Italian meal and endearing service. Special thanks to our two sets of lifelong friends for hosting us at both venues, and in their lovely homes.  

As for the rest of our trip, we were able to pack in some of the enumerable sights that London and its surrounding areas offer, from a visit to Greenwich by boat, a trip to the Natural History Museum, to the Temple Church and the absolutely not to be missed Churchill War Rooms (the latter two to the particular delight of my inner history nerd), there was certainly something for everyone. 

Thanks to all our friends and colleagues for an amazing trip and until next time, London! 


The Temple Church, Photo: NK 

Leave lots of time to enjoy the Churchill War Rooms,
Photo: NK