November 25, 2009

Anti-Thanksgiving Special: Spaghetti allo Scoglio

Before we begin I'd like to address something that has just come to my attention: this is my 50th post, yay!

It might not seem like much, at least to all you veteran bloggers out there with hundreds of posts to your name, but considering I started this little baby blog a mere two and a bit months ago, I think it's quite an achievement for such a short time. But I'm always one to give credit where credit is due, and I don't think I would have reached the big five-oh so quickly if it hadn't been for NaBloPoMo. This little self-challenge really kicked me into gear.

Okay, that's enough self-lauding for today. Now on to the meat of my post (which is actually a little pun I made especially for you, because this post is about seafood... aren't I clever? :)

This post is dedicated to all American ex-pats currently unable to celebrate thanksgiving in whatever foreign counties your in.

I'm boycotting Thanksgiving this year. I'm not sure if I can still call it boycotting if I don't have any say over the matter, but because I like feeling like I'm in control, I'm choosing to use that term - semantically accurate or not. Either way, I'm not just going to boycott Thanksgiving by not getting to eat traditional Thanksgiving fare, I'm going to cook up the meal most opposite I can think of to turkey and potatoes and pumpkin and squash and cranberries and pie and... Ok I need to stop because I'm starting to drool. I was saying, I'm going to cook up the meal most opposite to Thanksgiving dinner (that I already had the ingredients for), which I think is seafood pasta. It's Italian, and it comes from the sea, which I guess also applied to the Pilgrims, but that's pretty much the only similarity you're going to find between Spaghetti allo Scoglio (literally spaghetti from the rocks, ie. the ocean rocks where yummy shellfish live) and Turkey, Pilgrims, Native Americans, stuffing, and all that other good Thanksgiving stuff.

This is an in-my-head recipe that I don't have an actually measured out recipe for, so bear with me if my quantities aren't up to Martha Stewart standards of precision - luckily a little modification won't really change anything. EXCEPT don't use too much wine, and make sure it isn't sweet wine - I accidentally did that once, and for all the garlic and hot pepper I put in there, it still tasted like a syrupy wine spritzer. Stick to the dry stuff.

And I'm totally not going to re-type up the recipe instructions sans pictures at the end, because they would be just as vague and lacking in precise measurements as the captions to my photos (which are still terrible because my kitchen it the bane of my existence). But I will do you the favor of bolding the ingredients, so you can see them at a glance.

So without further ado, I present my Anti-thanksgiving Special:

Spaghetti allo Scoglio.

The very first step is excruciatingly easy, but very important, and easy to forget: Put a pot of water to boil. If you finish your sauce and realize you don't have any cooked pasta to put it on because you forgot to boil water, you will want to kick yourself, which is actually kind of difficult, and pretty dangerous in a kitchen with hot oil on the stove.

There are two star ingredients in this recipe, and neither of them is seafood. The first is hot pepper. Whatever type you have on hand is fine, as long as it's spicy. Ground is ok, but it tends to lose it's oomph fairly quickly, so I'd go with fresh, or dried whole. These I bought fresh in Calabria in August (I'm not sure what kind they are, but I think the lady said Peperoncino Fragola - Strawberry Hot Peppers - because of the shape), and they eventually dried out naturally on their own. You're going to want to mince these, if you want it spicy, or leave them in little chunks, if you want to be able to pick out the spicy pieces later. Although the seeds are really what determine the hotness. I used half of one of these, which are about the size of a small strawberry.

 Peperoncini Fragola Calabrese

The second star is garlic. Lots of it. I think I put around four or five cloves in this sauce (which serves two to three people, depending on appetite), and another minced one as garnish, but it's obviously all about what you like. Chop it up real nice and tiny. Or if you don't like eating little bits of garlic, gently crush each clove and add them in whole. I like chopping up the hot pepper and the garlic together, so the flavors really intermingle, like so:

Minced Garlic and Hot Pepper

Generously coat the bottom of a large (enough to hold all the cooked pasta) saute pan with extra virgin olive oil (about two tbsp.), heat the oil, and then toss everything in and give it a stir.

Then immediately turn down the heat to the minimum. There's enough heat in the oil already to cook the garlic, and the last thing you want to do is burn it - burnt garlic is about as tasty as burnt chocolate (which is pretty gross).

Meanwhile, take out your beautiful, fresh, washed cherry tomatoes,

about two handfuls,

and chop them up. I usually just quarter them so that when they break down in the sauce they still have a little shape; chop them up any more and they turn to mush.

Turn the heat back up a little (not too much) and go ahead and add those tomatoes to the saute pan. Mix everything up so the spicy garlic oil coats all the tomato bits.

Salt generously (because we all know that salt and tomatoes are best friends) and let this all mingle for a bit. You might even want to cover it and let it simmer for a minute. This gives you time to get out your seafood mix and the white wine (dry white wine).

Now about the seafood. I sort of cheated and used a frozen pre-mixed seafood medley made for risotto, which included clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp, octopus, and totani, which I'm pretty sure is just another type of calamari. But feel free to use whatever you like, mixed up, or just one seafood ingredient at a time - this would be nice with just  some big juicy shrimp. Either way, I used more or less 250 g, which is about half a pound.

Whatever you end up using, gather up your seafood, and toss it into the saute pan. Let it "fry" a little bit, as much as it can in the tomato juices, just to get covered in sauce a bit. When things look like they're all nice and saucy, splash in some dry white wine. But be careful. A little at a time. You can always add more later, but you can't take it out. And believe me, you don't want your delicious Anti-Thanksgiving Special tasting like a wine spritzer with a hint of garlic, it's gross. Eyeballing it, I'd say about a quarter cup of wine, total.

Turn the heat down to low, if it isn't already, cover, and let everything simmer for a few minutes. This is a good time to add a baby handful of kosher salt to the water, because it'll take a bit for the water to get back to boiling.

Meanwhile, "measure out" your spaghetti (or whatever long pasta you're using, as I and all Italian grandmothers discourage  the use of short pasta with this dish). And by "measure" I mean grab a couple of handfuls. Half a 500 g pack is good for two to three people, a whole 500 g pack is good for four to six people, depending on who you're dining with.

This is as much as I grabbed for myself,
and it ended up being two portions too many.

When you the water is back back to its rolling boil, toss in the spaghetti, making sure to push it down until it's all completely submerged (this may take a minute and some skilled efforts to not burn yourself).

 (If you were wondering why my pasta is so yellow looking, it's partly because of the crappy lighting, but mostly because here I used whole wheat pasta. I would have used normal spaghetti, but I didn't have any, and this wasn't a bad alternative. It's a little browner, denser, and nuttier - probably better with a tomato sauce than with sea food - but not noticeably in a well-flavored sauce).

All this time you should have been checking on your sauce, adding another splash of wine (or water) if it's starting to dry up, taking off the cover and turning up the heat if it's still too liquid, and generally evaluating the sauce situation and making the necessary adjustments.

When the sauce is done - the tomatoes should no longer be acidic, the seafood should be cooked through but not rubbery - turn off the heat so it doesn't dry out any more, and wait for the pasta to finish cooking. Regular spaghetti should take between 7 and 8 minutes. Drain it when it's still al dente (a little firm on the inside) and then add it to the sauce in the saute pan, stir it together, and let everything mingle in there for a minute, which allows the pasta to finish cooking through.

When you have the feeling that the pasta tastes as delicious as the sauce, plate it up, and garnish with a little chopped parsley and garlic and some freshly ground black pepper.

I didn't have any parsley.

Then eat it all up, but remember to enjoy a glass of that dry white wine with it. Or two.

So there you have it. My Anti-Thanksgiving Special. I hope you all have a chance to make Spaghetti allo Scoglio, I'm guessing about ten days after thanksgiving when you've been eating turkey and squash leftovers for so long that anything Italian with seafood will look like the most amazing dish ever created.


amy said...

Sorry you have to miss out on all of the good Thanksgiving food!

Thanksgiving Day is one of my favorite holiday's and it about killed me when I lived in England, back in 2005. I think I had some kind of pasta dish on that day, too!

I hope you enjoy your pasta! :)

Inspiration in Italy said...

This looks amazing! I'm with thanksgiving this year! It is nice to join you here in beautiful Rome although I'm sure you are so much more acquainted with Italian lifestyle, especially being that your father is Italian! What an adventurous life you must have....I would like to see France someday as well. Glad I found your blog, I love it!


lovelyinlux said...

Beautiful blog!! I'm totally digging your boycott on Thanksgiving...good idea. And congratulations on your 50th post!

Julia said...

thanks ladies! :) I hope you respective thanksgivings (or lack thereof) went well!