Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Frutti di Mare

Les poissons, les poissons,
Hee hee hee, hah hah hah!
With the cleaver I hack them in two!
I pull out what's inside
and I serve it up fried.
God, I love little fishes, don't you?
            -- Howard Ashman, The Little Mermaid

When I was in Venice (and I’m sorry for the tease because I haven’t actually posted anything from Venice yet, but I will, really) everyone was eating spaghetti con le vongole.  It was on every restaurant menu.  We were surrounded by it.  I LOVE spaghetti con le vongole.  But I really couldn’t justify ordering it, because it’s so ridiculously easy to make.  In fact, I make it on a fairly regular basis at home, especially since clams are pretty inexpensive.  So I decided I wouldn’t have spaghetti con le vongole in Venice, but when I got back to my own kitchen in Verona, I would make it for myself.

Well, because I got a little overenthusiastic with the pasta e fagioli, I didn’t really get an opportunity to do any interesting cooking again until today, Friday.  After school I went to the market to pick up some clams.  I was SO excited for my spaghetti con le vongole, especially after eating beans for a week!  But I was disappointed to find that the market was out of clams.

I had my heart set on seafood, so I just figured I would pick something else.  Here’s the problem.  The seafood counter at my local supermarket looks like this:

It’s easy to get overwhelmed.  And when you have your mind set on cooking and eating something particular, when you can practically taste it already, and you find you can’t make that particular thing, well, it can be a little hard to adjust your thinking.

So I ended up picking things almost at random.  I made a point of only choosing critters fished in Italian waters, but beyond that, I just asked for whatever struck my fancy.

Here’s what I came home with:

I should have written down their names, which fled from my brain during the hours that elapsed between shopping and blogging.  The little fishies are called something that I think translates roughly as “mud trout.”  Each one is about as long as my index finger, and as wide as two fingers together.  The big pink shrimp are called scampi, and the long grey ones…I forget.  But aren’t they wild?  Their eyes are on their heads with teeny antennae and teeny claws, but their tails are marked with these double spots that look like eyes.  I didn’t even realize till I got them home that I was looking at them upside-down, as it were.

"Are you really going to eat me?!"
I still wanted spaghetti, but I didn’t want to put the cute little fishies in a sauce because I thought they would fall apart.  So I had the crustaceans over the spaghetti, and the fishes as a toy-sized secondo.

Here’s what went into the spaghetti, aside from the fish.  I forgot to put the olive oil in the photo, but by now it should be obvious that there’s olive oil in pretty much everything I make.

I heated up the oil and added a generous portion of chopped garlic.  Then I added a lot of wine—I mean, really a lot.  Even though I was only making one serving, I used maybe two-thirds of the bottle, and then let it reduce for a long time until I had less than a cup of liquid.  You don’t really need to use that much.  I did because when I opened the bottle, I thoughtlessly threw away the cork, so I realized too late that the wine wouldn’t keep well, and at the moment I have no one to help me drink it.  So I put most of it in the pot.  I don’t think it hurt!

When the liquid has boiled down, add the chopped (peeled, if you like) tomato.  Then the shrimp or prawns or whatever we are calling them today.  Put the lid on for about five minutes, or until the shells are dark rosy-pink and opaque.  If you don’t already know how to tell when your shrimp is cooked, I’m afraid I cannot give any more detailed instruction than that…

To serve: Take your crustaceans out of the sauce.  Throw in the chopped parsley, and toss the sauce together with your cooked spaghetti, which you have of course remembered to dose with a splash of olive oil so it doesn’t stick together as it cools.  Then plate it, and lay the shrimpies decoratively across the top.  There is no polite way to eat these critters, so don’t be shy about using your hands, and make sure you have some good crusty bread on hand to soak up all that delicious sauce.  And, by the way, I know this looks like an enormous amount of food, but in reality, each of those crustaceans contains only a bite or two of meat.  There’s just a lot of decorative packaging.

The teeny fishies were just sautéed in olive oil, salted and peppered and spritzed with lemon juice.

The meal left quite an aftermath:

At least I own up to my gluttony.