Last year (it seems like so much longer!) I started this blog called Madeleine, and one of the first entries was dedicated to scouring local bookstores for the one out of two cookbooks on my x-mas list I didn't get... As selfish as it seems, I really wanted two cookbooks under the tree--Sunday Suppers at Lucques & The Herbal Kitchen--but since I only got one, I dragged my lovable husband around the Seattle metropolitan area on an all-day quest to satiate my need for Suzanne Goin's Lucques publication, apparently the hottest cookbook of 2006 judging by its scarceity.
This year I wised up & put three on my wish list, and sure enough, that resulted in two shiny new cookbooks below our bedeckled Doug Fir. One was Spanish Kitchen by Jane Lawson, a scintilating collection of modern Iberian recipes with droolable photographs that I figured I could do a lot with considering my vocation. Truth is, I hardly ever cook Iberian food at home anymore as I talk about it all day at work & feel palate saturation setting in after having to explain how to make paella ten times on a Tuesday. But it looked so good, I threw out some heavy hints to cookbook Claus & there you have it. Another Spanish cookbook, but one I hope to make use of...
So, while I went to see if I could special order a copy of Lidia Bastianich's Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen yesterday at Sur La Table in the market (the one I didn't get this year, thank you--now you know I'm greedy!) I also got my friends Tom & Barbara's permission to jot down the ingredients out of Jamie's Italy which I'd inadvertantly left at home in the morning's rush, to make a market shopping list for Sicilian Lobster Broth. (Ken did buy the book there as it turns out, so I didn't feel so bad...)
Now while I know that English cuisine is often thought of as the laughing stock of European cuisine (I'll never forget my first Guinness shake--thank you, but never again!!) but Jamie Oliver's recent books have been a great source of decent meals for decent people, as I think he might agree. In fact, he's scored a few Mama Mia's in our household, which is indeed a great honor.
While I didn't splurge for lobster tailsfor his Sicilian Lobster Broth recipe, we did have a number of gargantuan shrimp re-gifted to us from our New Year's Day adventures in the kitchen. Perfecto! But while things have gone brilliantly following the step by step methods of past Oliver recipes, this most recent collection seems to need tweeking, tempermental results veering far from the photographed promise land of Italy's bounty at the table. Jamie, maybe you're laying the foundation for your retirement ("one day I hope to live there") Tuscan cooking school rather than showing us the layman's way?
Most importantly, what this new addition to my cookbook collection has done is to think like a chef--I know Italian food as I made sure every best friend & boyfriend I had in Schenectady, NY had roots from the boot of Sicily or blue-eyed northern clans. And if a recipe makes me work a little harder to achieve perfection, then so be it, but tonight I got a Mama Mia! I'm still in the after-glow with leftovers for tomorrow, so please allow me to share tonight's winning kiss-on-the-cheek recipe:
Spaghetti con Calamari adapted from Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver
- one bulb of fennel, finely chopped & herby tops reserved
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled & finely sliced
- 2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed (or fennel pollen, which I used)
- 1 large glass of crisp Italian white wine but an inexpensive Spanish Albarino works great!
- 4 baby squid, cleaned & cut into rings left whole Granted they didn't have tentacles at the market I went to but 4 baby squid for a pound of pasta?? My fishmonger laughed & said, "Well baby squid might be a lot bigger in Italy!" He suggested 3/4 of a pound & that was perfect.
- 1 lb dried spaghetti or linguine
- sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
- a small handful of frsh flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped
- zest of 1 lemon
Get all your ingredients prepped & ready to go. According to my husband, this is one of the key elements in "the way of the chef". Mis en place, mis en place.
Pour a couple of good glugs (that's Jamie talk for 2 generous Tbs) of olive oil into a large hot frying pan or casserole-type pan. Another rule of the "way of the chef"--never use measuring spoons, just your eyes! Give it a swoosh around & add the chopped fennel, garlic, & fennel seeds. Chefs seem to like to use utensils only when necessary I've noticed. Spoons are for wimps. I'm miserable at flipping & swooshing & got stuff all over the stove. Fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring as often as you can. Turn the heat right up & add the wine, the chili, & the squid.
At this point I pulled Ken into the kitchen & asked him to evaluate the game plan. The fish guy said to give the squid a flash fry & I've had my share of tough calamari at restaurants. Was this really the point to put in those delicious little rings? Ken's vote was either to cook squid for a long time on low, or throw 'em in for a last minute toss. Looking at the recipe, we voted to put them in last. So let me proceed...
Keep stirring until the alcohol & moisture have reduced by half. Turn the heat down to a slow simmer & now cook your pasta in salted boiling water according to the package instructions.
At this point taste the sauce & correct the seasoning. Once your pasta is nicely cooked to al dente, drain it in a colander, saving a little of the cooking water. Toss the pasta straight away with the squid & all the juices. Remove the pan from the heat & add about 5 tablespoons of really good extra virgin olive oil, along with the fennel tops & parsley. Give everything a good toss, have one more taste to check seasoning, add a little of the reserved cooking water to loosen if need be, then divide into 4 bowl. Sprinkle a little lemon zest over each plate & eat straight away.