Saturday, October 25, 2008

Seafood Pasta New England Style

So this time for our get together in Rhode Island I wanted to cook lamb. I really like lamb. It’s fun and easy to cook. Plus you can get really creative with the sides for lamb. So lamb was the plan. That is, right up until I talked to Rick about it. Turns out his wife Patti doesn’t like lamb. Hmmm. OK fair enough. I am cooking at his house after all. It’s not like I can just invite them NEXT time. And I eat out more times in a week than many do in a couple of months so my lamb opportunities are vast.

Then Rick asked me if I knew how to do a seafood pasta. The images of little lamb rib racks laid out in perfect French presentation were replaced by visions of shellfish opening atop a briny seafood rich pasta. Sold. Done. Lamb? What lamb? Let’s do some seafood.

I haven’t made a seafood pasta in years. Like most fantastic pasta dishes, it ain’t rocket science. When I make pasta dishes that are original, I think of 4 things: What is the star? What is the base? What are the accompanying players? What is the pasta? All of these factors have to work together of your dish may not be what you were hoping for. Let’s dig in to this idea.

The Star. Sometimes the pasta itself can be a star like in an Aglio-Olio (pasta with garlic and oil) or in a gnocchi. In this case, obviously it’s seafood. But what kind and how much? I knew this could vary so I left the final choice up to what looked fresh at the market. I chose shrimp, scallops, cod, mussels, clams and blue crab (lump and backfin).

The Base. I batted this around a bit. Creamy, alfredo-ey is one thought and not a terrible one either. I just thought that was a bit heavy and concealing for the delicateness of the Star. Cioppino style can be great for seafood with fantastic wine-tomato broth and amazingly bright depth. While I like that idea, I just made a bolognaise a few days earlier and I just wasn’t feeling it. So I settled on a garlicky clam juice and white wine broth and decided to give the accompanying players a speaking role. This was designed specifically for using chunks of bread to sop up the juice. A splash of cream at the end provided a perfect touch of richness without being even remotely heavy.

Accompanying players. For us, it was red bell pepper, spinach, green onion, parsley and fresh cherry tomatoes. With the broth and seafood being intentionally light, I wanted a bit of brightness both in color and flavor. And while I wasn’t feeling a heavy tomato-ey broth, I definitely loved the undertones my tomato addition provided. The pepper added a lovely sweetness and the onion, parsley and spinach balanced bright flavor.

Pasta. Well since I’ve clearly established that pasta is not the star of this dish, I need a great compliment from it. I tend to prefer pastas that do a good job of holding liquids. Here we will be combining everything at the end so the pasta won’t have real time to bathe in this concoction, so I chose orecchiette. This roundish ear shaped pasta will do a nice job of collecting broth like a cup in the rain.

Until now, all of this has been in my head and unexecuted so I went for it. Wow. Just like the Tampa Bay Ray’s hits in their victory over the Boston Red Sox in the recent championship series, this dish was out of the park. (OK I had to throw that zinger to my New England friends. Look what Rick’s son did to my Ray’s cap). I could not have been more excited about a pasta dish.

So for those of you that want to make a great seafood pasta, just follow the above guidelines and don’t worry about the ingredients so much. It’s really simple and start to finish I’d say maybe 30 minutes. That includes the tedium of chopping and cleaning along the way. Do pay attention to the cooking times for the shrimp and scallops though. They can get rubbery if overcooked so I seared the scallops separately and added at the end. The raw shrimp cook in about 3 minutes so I threw those in just before done as well.

On the side I served a bit of toasted seasoned crouton for dipping as well as the pumpkins I had experimented with in the last post.

They went over well too. All in all, another great night. We’re doing it again in 2 week at Michele’s house. Her kitchen is new to me so I’ll get to learn my way around yet again. We keep changing venues so that everyone gets their turn at hosting or perhaps once I’ve been in their kitchen for a night or 2, that’s all they can take. Either way, the food is yummy.

For the entire play by play (Another Baseball reference, get it?) here is the recipe as I recall it from 35,000 ft.

Seafood Pasta (easily serves 10)

16 oz orecchiette pasta
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8-10 large sea scallops
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup green onion, chopped
1 bottle clam juice (6 oz)
1 cup white wine
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4-6 oz cod fillet, cut into bite size pieces
1 cup prepared clams in their juice
½ cup each of backfin and jumbo lump crabmeat
12 mussels, cleaned and debearded
3 cups bagged raw spinach
12 large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails on
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup fresh grated parsley
Fresh grated parmesan cheese for sprinkling (optional due to the general aversion to using cheese with seafood but I like it a lot)

In a large stockpot bring about 10 cups of well salted water to a boil. Add the orecchiette. I don’t mention draining it till the end but please keep an eye on it and don’t overcook. Remove from the heat and drain when al dente. I also like to season pasta separately with a touch of salt, pepper and olive oil no matter what the dish. An Emeril trick, I admit.

Season the scallops with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan over medium high heat add the olive oil. We want it to be almost smoking. Sauté the scallops for about 3 minutes per side to get a nice brown crust. Remove and set aside.

Add a touch more oil and the red peppers and tomatoes. Sauté for 3 minutes until peppers are just soft then add the garlic and green onion. Allow the garlic to become fragrant (a minute or 2) then add the white wine and clam juice. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce by half then add the cod, clams and crab. Now add the mussels and spinach and cover for about a minute. The mussels will open and the spinach will wilt. Uncover and add the shrimp and cream. Cook another 3 minutes. Check your seasoning and resalt and pepper if needed.

Drain the Pasta and place in a large serving bowl. Top with the seafood mixture, scallops that were reserved and parsley. Serve with a crusty bread for sopping broth and parmesan for topping. I provide a non slotted spoon for something like this so that the liquid is part of the serving.


Anonymous said...

That's a truly classic post! I like how you got in writing that the next one is at Michele's, and the way you weaved in the baseball motif (hat's off to the Rays- credit where credit is due). And let me tell you my highlights from the meal- the seared scallops, and the oil-soaked bread mopping up the seafood pasta sauce. Until next time......RFS

Louis said...

kind words indeed.