Time is galloping. My thesis is plodding.
I have two days left in which to spit it all out on paper–or, rather, onto the screen. This is an internal deadline, but one that is crucial to my mental health. I have promised myself that, if I can bang out a serviceable rough draft by the time I make my presentation on Tuesday, I can take a couple of days off to reconnect with the world before I buckle down and finish my damn degree.
I started this blog five years (minus six days) ago, when I had been admitted into the master’s degree program in Food Studies at NYU. I was giddy, impatient and somewhat terrified at the prospect of being back in the classroom after 16 years. Would I be the oldest one there? Did I remember how to write an academic paper? How would I find my classroom? Had my study skills miraculously improved over the past couple of decades? Did I need a new set of crayons and a protractor? Would I ever figure out the newfangled computer systems?
It’s strange to look back at those first entries and glimpse an earlier version of myself. A lot has happened in the intervening years. I passed 40 and kept right on aging. I left my job as Executive Director of one nonprofit organization in order to lead another. I left that organization and struck out on my own as a consultant and teacher. I lost the tiny and impossibly sweet cat that had been with me since my early years in New York City and gained a bolder, fluffier model. I wrote a lot of papers. I took an unexpected departure into art and performance. I chalked up more than my fair share of learning experiences on the romantic front. I overcame my fear of public speaking. I learned that I could, in fact, love a second nephew just as much as I love the first. I broke an ankle and an indeterminate number of toes. I raised upwards of five million dollars. I made lifelong friends who may actually be more food obsessed than I am. I read so many books that the wall nearest my dining table is an endlessly rotating literary staging area. I took a few epic trips–to Argentina, to Paris, to India, and to Nahunta, Georgia to see a man about a grill. I finally mastered the poached egg.
Tonight I declared the research phase of my thesis over and got serious about writing. But first, I made dinner.
Chorizo, Chickpeas, Clams & Potatoes
- 24 small clams
- 12 new potatoes, halved lengthwise
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil.
- 2 links fresh chorizo, uncased
- 1 large leek, rinsed and chopped
- four cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 teaspoon hot paprika
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas (If you didn’t happen to reserve some chickpeas from the massive batch of hummus you made this afternoon, canned will suffice.)
- 1 cup white wine or rose
- 1 handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- salt and pepper (maybe)
- Sort through your clams, making sure that any that are open close back up when tapped. Give them a rinse and place in a bowl covered with cold water for at least 20 minutes. I added some cornmeal and a hefty dose of sea salt, but suspect neither is actually necessary to the purging process. The goal here is to get the clams to spit out any sand they may be harboring.
- Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and toss the potatoes in. Cook just until tender and then drain.
- Bring a large cast iron skillet up to medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. Then add the chorizo, breaking it into chunks with a wooden spoon. Stir frequently. When the sausage has started to give up its fat, add the leek and continue to stir frequently. After a couple of minutes, add the garlic. If the pan gets dry, add some more olive oil. When the leeks have softened but aren’t yet brown, add the paprika, thyme and potatoes. Stir to combine, positioning as many of the potatoes as you can cut-side down. Cook without stirring until the potatoes start to brown. Stir in the chickpeas and wine.
- Rinse the clams under cold water, taking care not to stir up any of the sediment at the bottom of the bowl. Nestle the clams in the pan and cover. If you don’t have a lid that fits, foil will work just fine. Check them after five minutes, giving a quick stir to move any that haven’t opened toward the boiling spots. When all of the clams have opened (or you’ve given up and discarded that stubborn one), remove from the heat.
- Give it a taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with some crusty bread to soak up the juices.
This past weekend’s chilly temperature notwithstanding, Monday’s visit to the Union Square Greenmarket suggests that spring is here to stay. I picked up more young collard greens (color me obsessed), chives, carrots, mint, ramps and dandelion greens. Last night, having worked late, I dined on sautéed collard tacos augmented by half an avocado that had miraculously stayed fresh while I was out of town for a long weekend. Tonight I departed work on time, leaving me with the energy/blood sugar level to swing by my local sustainable seafood shop for a dozen littleneck clams. Half an hour later, dinner was served.
Clams, Dandelion Greens & Hog Jowl
- 1 ounce hog jowl (or bacon), finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 12 littleneck clams
- 1 bunch dandelion greens
- zest of 1 lemon
- salt and pepper
Bring a medium-sized pot with a good fitting lid up to medium heat. Add the hog jowl and olive oil and cook stirring occasionally until the pork is partially rendered. Add the onion and continue to cook stirring occasionally until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook stirring constantly for two more minutes. Add the wine, raise the heat to high, and add the clams. Cook with the lid on for 10 minutes or so, stirring once or twice, until all of your clams have popped open. Stir in the dandelion greens in batches and cook until just wilted. Add the lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste.
Watching the clams give way to your bubbling broth is mighty relaxing–particularly if you do so with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand.
This would make a killer sauce for linguine. Given that I was cooking for one, I went with a piece of grilled whole wheat sourdough, which did a fine job of soaking up the luscious broth.
Well that was a long week. I saw visiting family off on Monday, delivered a performance/presentation in class on Tuesday, had major dental work on Wednesday, and turned in my final paper of the semester on Thursday–all while holding down my full-time job. I had high hopes of attending an event tonight, but exhaustion and misanthropy got the better of me. I did manage to swing by the Union Square Greenmarket on the way home. Agricultural reality continues to lag behind our culinary aspirations, but I was able to pick up more ramps and broccoli rabe, along with a couple of Bread Alone’s multigrain panini. I got off the mercifully uncrowded Q train at 7th Avenue and swung by Mermaid’s Garden, the newish fish shop in my neighborhood I’d been meaning to check out for months. I picked up a dozen littleneck clams, which I somehow thought would pair well with broccoli rabe, and a couple of pounds of Georgia shrimp, which went into the freezer for some future delight.
Steamed Clams & Broccoli Rabe
- 1 dozen littleneck clams
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe
- 1 ounce diced bacon ends (or 1 slice bacon or 1 tablespoon olive oil)
- 3 ramps and those 3 scallions that seem to have wilted in your veggie bin (Shallots, garlic and/or plain old yellow onion would also be fine.)
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 cup white wine
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- salt and pepper
- Drop the clams into a small bowl, top with water, and fix yourself a cocktail.
- Once you have finished your cocktail, fill a medium pot halfway with water, add a healthy pinch of salt, pop a lid on, and set it over high heat. While the water comes to a boil, fix yourself another cocktail. Roughly chop the broccoli rabe, toss it into the pot, and boil for two minutes or so until just softened but still toothsome. Strain into a colander and run some cold water over the top to stop the cooking process.
- Place the pot back on the burner, lower the heat to medium-low and toss in the bacon. Cook, stirring frequently, until the bacon has rendered. Chop the ramps and the green portion of the scallions and add these plus the red pepper flakes to your bacon. Cook for a few minutes.
- Crank the heat up to high and add some of that white wine that was questionably drinkable when you first opened it and is most definitely not drinkable after a month in the fridge. Fish the clams out of the water and drop them into the pot. Let boil, stirring a bit, until the clams start popping open (approximately five minutes). As they open, pull them to the top so as not to overcook.
- Thinly slice the whites of the scallions. When the clams have all opened, turn off the heat and stir in the blanched broccoli rabe along with the lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste.
Dump this into a bowl and serve with some good quality bread to soak up the juices. A spoon might be helpful. But, if you happen to be dining alone, just lift the bowl up to your face. The cat will not be offended.
Barbara and I met through our mutual support of the New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF). This past spring she invited me to be a guest on the Park Slope Food Coop cooking show that she hosts. We had a great time making shrimp and grits and discussing the critical role that abortion funds play. A couple of weeks ago we decided to reprise our cooking date–only this time (mercifully) the cameras were off.
Barbara emailed me a few days before our date asking what we should make. I mentally reviewed the various foodstuffs cluttering my fridge: corn, potatoes, and a wide variety of peppers. This could have gone any number of ways. Then I remembered that I had several corn cobs stripped of their kernels jammed into my freezer because I had read something about corn broth. Bingo!
Corn & Seafood Chowder
- 8-12 cobs of corn
- 3 ounces slab bacon, diced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3 stalks celery, finely diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 1 cubanelle pepper, diced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 medium russet potatoes, cut into half-inch cubes
- 1 pint lobster stock or 1 jar clam juice
- 18-24 cherrystone or littleneck clams
- 2 large filets of flounder (about 1 pound total)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 bunch curly parsley, chopped
- salt and pepper
- Husk the corn and then strip off the kernels using a sharp knife. (I find that doing this over a shallow bowl keeps the kernels from rolling away and also allows me to capture any of the milky liquid that they exude.) Reserve about four cobs’ worth of kernels for your chowder and freeze the rest for succotash, cornbread or the like. Throw the denuded cobs into a large pot with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for half an hour–or as long as it takes you to get through the next couple of steps.
- Dice your bacon, onions, celery, and green peppers. Mince the garlic and jalapeño. Chop the potatoes. Chat about anything and everything. Have a nosh if you like.
- Add the bacon to a large pan and bring up to medium-low heat. Once the fat has mostly rendered and the bacon pieces are just starting to firm up, add the onions. Saute until they are starting to soften and then add your celery and various peppers. Once these have started to soften, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes. The key is to soften everything up without allowing it to brown. Season with salt and pepper.
- Pull the corn cobs out of your soup pot using tongs and then dump your vegetable mixture into the pot along with the diced potatoes. Add the lobster stock or clam juice, bring to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. Put the clams in a bowl, cover with cold water, and add some black pepper or cornmeal. (This step, while not strictly necessary, will encourage the clams to spit out their sand, avoiding a certain amount of grit in the finished product.) Leave the pot to simmer for a half hour or more while you retire to the living room for some more chatting.
- Now is a good time to wake Barbara’s husband Chris up from his nap so that he can ready himself for chowder.
- Add the butter. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add your clams and then lay the flounder in gently. Cook until the clams pop open (roughly 15 minutes), by which time your flounder should be white and opaque. Finish with the corn kernels and some fresh parsley.
We ate our chowder in Barbara’s rather perfect Fiestaware bowls, using hunks of bread to soak up the delicious broth. It made for a truly excellent early autumn lunch.