Category Archives: mussels

Bouillabaisse, Northwest-style

halibut3Fish stews—bouillabaisse, cioppinochowder, bisque, fish head soup, and so on—are some of my favorite meals. Don’t let the authenticity police scare you into passing on such hearty and satisfying fare. These dishes are meant to be simple, to let the ingredients speak for themselves, even when we gussy them up with pretension.

In Marseilles, partisans have been arguing over the ingredients and presentation of a proper bouillabaisse for as long as anyone can remember. Ignore the guy who tells you you’re doing it wrong if you don’t use a freakin’ rascasse fer chrissakes. (The rascasse, also called a scorpionfish, is a Mediterranean species often used in bouillabaisse…in southern France.) Nor do you need to serve it in two courses, with rouille.

The point of dishes like bouillabaisse or cioppino is to use whatever is fresh and on hand. In fact, I’d bet the origin of these dishes is probably less palatable than many would like to believe. The fish were probably those left unsold by the fishmonger or on the verge of being…shall we say…less than perfectly fresh. Perhaps they were bycatch on the boat, the sort of fishes that wouldn’t earn the fishermen any money. Into the stew pot they went, along with whatever else was lying around: onions, garlic, tomato, maybe a fennel bulb.

Since it’s the 21st century and most of us won’t be cooking this dish on board a fishing vessel at an ungodly hour in between sets, we needn’t worry about making use of deck flotsam. We should try to find the best, freshest fish available wherever we live. I happen to live in the Pacific Northwest, not on the Mediterranean, so it makes sense to use local Puget Sound shellfish and cold-water finned fish from the North Pacific. I was in Cordova, Alaska, last week for opening day of the Copper River salmon season. Instead of bringing home a box full of sockeye or king like everyone else on my Alaska Airlines flight, I nabbed me some halibut, which yielded four beautiful fillets and a carcass begging to be used for stock. (The salmon was too valuable as income for my hosts to give away.)

A mix of fish makes a more interesting bouillabaisse. Along with the halibut, I added Alaskan rockfish, Penn Cove mussels, and shrimp. Other choices in my region might include lingcod, Pacific cod, pollock, flounder, Dungeness crab, manila clams, and spot shrimp. You could use salmon, but the strong and distinctive flavor would overwhelm the other ingredients. My nods to tradition included fennel, saffron, and orange zest, though I didn’t bother with leeks or Pernod (though a licorice fern infusion could have given it that extra touch of anise flavor).

You can use store-bought fish stock or clam juice, but a homemade stock is best—a good excuse for buying that whole fish at the market and saving a bunch of money by filleting it yourself and using the scraps for stock.

Stock

1 (or more) white-fleshed fish carcass (enough to fill bottom of pot)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 or 2 celery ribs, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 handful parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Cover fish carcass (in this case, halibut) with water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add onion, carrot, celery, white wine, bay leaf, thyme, parsley. Simmer together another 20 minutes, until fish flesh is easily separated from the bones. Add more water if necessary. Season and strain. Yield: 1 quart.

Bouillabaisse

2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine (or splash of Pernod)
2-3 cups tomatoes, cut up
1 pinch saffron
1 pinch hot red pepper flakes
2 tsp orange zest
1 quart fish stock (see above)
3-4 lbs assorted white fish fillets cut into pieces and shellfish
1 handful parsley, chopped

In a pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onion and fennel until softened. Deglaze with a splash of white wine. Add garlic, tomatoes, saffron, pepper flakes, and orange zest. Raise heat to medium-high and cook together a few minutes. Stir in 1 quart fish stock and bring to low boil. Add fish fillet pieces and cook several minutes (depending on thickness). Note: if using a mixture of firm fish and softer fish, add in stages to allow even cooking. Lastly, add shellfish and cover. When the shellfish are cooked, stir in parsley and remove from heat. Ladle immediately over crusty bread (optional: toast bread and rub with cut garlic). Serves 4.

 

Matsutake and Shellfish Soup

I’ve been getting emails about our lackluster fall mushroom season in the Pacific Northwest. Even NPR did a story on it—and they pretty much got it right. The mushrooms tried to pop right on schedule—and in some cases, such as with lobsters and white chanterelles, they succeeded—but the long dry spell in September burned much of the crop and then that first big storm in mid-October wiped it out.

Many a mushroom hunter was hoping the rain would have the immediate effect of causing a huge—if belated—flush. My hunch is that the mycelia had already formed primordia, and the deadly combo of drought followed by deluge dealt a knockout one-two punch. At this point we should be hoping for winter species like yellowfeet and hedgehogs, though I’m not optimistic.

The other day I picked a spot on the Olympic Peninsula that’s usually carpeted with mushrooms this time of year. We salvaged a few matsutake and passed by many more that had clearly suffered heat exhaustion. Yellowfeet were nowhere in evidence, and just a couple hogs had managed to fruit. A half-dozen cauliflower mushrooms saved the day, but even those showed signs of distress with obvious yellowing of the ruffles.

Cauliflower mushroom

Still, a half-pound of #4 matsutake is all it takes to make a good meal, and there’s something sweet about using wild main ingredients from two different kingdoms. This is a dish I had once over at Idle Wylde, the home of Foraged and Found Edibles proprietor Jeremy Faber. In typical fashion, he didn’t even remember making it when I asked for the recipe. I told him it included manila clams, matsutake, and leeks. “Makes sense,” he said, “matsi and shellfish go together.” So I tried to reconstruct it from my own hazy memory banks and the result was astonishingly good. At least, that’s what Marty said, and I have to agree.

1/2 lb matsutake mushrooms (or more), sliced
1 lb littleneck clams in the shell, scrubbed
1 lb mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
2 leeks, white part only, sliced
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 cup sake
1 cup chicken stock
1 scallion, thinly sliced for garnish

1. Saute sliced leeks in peanut oil in heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, 2 minutes.

2. Add matsutake and cook together another couple minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sake and chicken stock and allow to simmer together a few minutes so the broth absorbs the singular matsi flavor.

3. Raise heat to high, add shellfish, and cover. Remove from heat when the clams and mussels have opened, careful not to overcook. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sliced scallion.

Serves 2 for dinner, or 4 as an appetizer.

Drunken Midgets Loose on the Flats

I know I’ve been posting a lot of shellfish recipes lately. What can I say? We’re in the homestretch. Most shellfish are currently piling on the fat so they can be ready for the spawning season, which generally coincides with warming water temperatures. And fat equals flavor. Let’s say that again, class. Fat equals flavor. (I feel like the tie-dyed teacher on South Park.) Once on the spawn, they’ll channel that fat toward reproductive success. This physiological change is readily apparent in oysters, which become watery or even milky during the warmest months.

So if you have a yen for some shellfish, now would be a good time to go. I visited one of my regular spots on Sunday with a passel of drunken midgets (as my friend Trouthole likes to refer to children). In typical Northwest fashion, we hit the tide flats in a squall of wind and rain that boded ill for the young charges, but the clouds eventually parted and the sun even deigned to show its face briefly. Ospreys are back and great blue herons stalked around the oyster bars like mimes on street corners.

Once the boys discovered they could dig for shrimp-like crustaceans, roust eels out of old shells, and generally run amok with sharp implements, they warmed to the idea of an afternoon in the mud. We all dug limits of littlenecks and shucked a bunch of oysters (more on the oysters in a future post). I also made sure to gather a dozen or so good-sized mussels.

Back at home Marty and I made one of our favorites, Pasta alle Vongole, and then the following night I steamed the rest of our clams plus the mussels. The thing about steamed shellfish is that it’s so easy. There’s a reason why steamed clams and mussels are a staple of virtually every dock-side restaurant up and down both coasts. Whether it’s Clams with Herbed Wine Sauce, Cambodian Shellfish Amok, Mussels with Cream and Thyme, Spicy Black Bean Clams, Thai Red Curry Clams, or simply Steamers with Butter, steamed shellfish dishes are crowd-pleasers and kitchen-pleasers.

Steamed Shellfish with Wine, Tomato, Sausage & Herbs

3 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 dozen mussels, de- bearded and scrubbed
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 pound Italian sausage, crumbled
1 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 handful mixed fresh herbs, chopped (e.g. thyme, oregano, parsley)
1-2 pinches red pepper flakes

1. Heat olive oil in deep saute pan or heavy-bottomed pot and brown sausage.
2. Add onions and garlic; cook until soft.
3. De-glaze with white wine, making sure to scrape all the brown bits from the pan. Mix in can of tomatoes with juice, chopped herbs, and pepper flakes. Cook for a few minutes over medium heat.
4. Raise heat to high, dump in shellfish, and cover. Steam until shells open, several minutes.

Serve in bowls with toasted bread. Makes 2 dinner portions.

B.C.: It’s not just a comic strip


We made our annual pilgrimage to a friend’s cabin on Thetis Island recently. Thetis is two ferries away from Seattle, in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia off the east coast of Vancouver Island. It’s pretty much an all-day affair to get there, but once you’re there, oh boy is the effort worth it.

We lucked out this year with low tides in the mornings, making clam digging the first order of the day. The butter clams, which apparently hold the toxins of red tide longer than other species, are off limits—even though there hasn’t been a red tide in recent memory—but littlenecks are plentiful and as big as I’ve seen them anywhere.

Bottom fishing is another regular distraction. Flounder, greenling, rockfish, and lingcod all haunt the lower depths. One of the kids even caught a dogfish. In the ensuing melee of trying to land and release it without losing a digit, the little shark thrilled its antagonists by snapping the rod in two with its jaws. Down, Fido!

Besides the usual chowder and oyster po ‘boys, we made a cioppino one night, cooking the catch of the day (flounder, littleneck clams, mussels) in a tomato-wine broth gussied up with chopped fennel bulb and saffron. The other key ingredient wasn’t a food item—it was the camp stove that made the cioppino seem all the more authentic (if I can use a term that normally curdles my appetite).

The kids, or some of them at any rate, experimented with their taste buds and their courage. Steamed sea lettuce drizzled with soy sauce over a bed of couscous wasn’t so bad after all, a few admitted. And a small gill-hooked flounder didn’t even require utensils.

There was one big difference between this year and previous: our young charges eventually tired of clamming and fishing, announcing their desire to go after bigger game. In keeping with the practical tenants of The Three-Martini Playdate, we parents heartily encouraged them during one evening’s cocktail hour, suggesting they cease running around underfoot and fully investigate the woods out back. Next thing we know, a small mob has armed itself with sticks and is in pursuit of the rather tame local squirrels and robins.

The next few days saw steep technological changes—not unlike those occurring over the course of millennia—as the little primates used their enhanced cranial capacity to invent a variety of tools/weapons, including bow-and-arrow and spears with honest-to-god spearpoints. Though the rodents and birds escaped harm this year, we shudder to think what future trips will hold for the hapless critters of Thetis Island.

Cioppino


What’s in a name? In our anxiety-prone food culture we tend to get uptight about the smallest lexical tics and demarkations. For instance, is it a Bouillabaisse or a Cioppino? How about Fish Soup—that seems to work pretty well. Italians mostly call dishes like this Zuppa di Pesce—Fish Soup. Occasionally Ciuppin. And sometimes Brodetto… Okay, you get the idea.

A Brodetto is a regional Italian variation found along the Adriatic that calls for special inclusion of the scorpionfish, or scorfano. Bouillabaisse is the Provencal word for essentially the same thing. All involve a mixture of both finned fish and shellfish, cooked in a tomato and wine-based stew, with peasant bread for sopping up the rich broth.

Cioppino, legend has it, is a New World invention—the word, that is. Italian immigrants shipping out of San Francisco to fish the Pacific ate Cioppino at sea—the catch of the day plus whatever other ingredients they had on board. The word derives from ciuppin, which translates as “chop”—in other words, chop it all together and make soup.

That’s what I love about Cioppinos and their ilk. When you can get past the regional claims, prejudices, and pronouncements, a Cioppino is merely an efficient and delectable way to make use of the odds and ends hanging around in the fridge. But to do it right you still need a variety of fish. Make it with either red wine or white; with spicy peppers or saffron; with fennel or celery. Just make it. You won’t be disappointed.

I made mine with Dungeness crab I dove for this summer, spot shrimp caught last spring, and a medley of mollusks gathered this past weekend: Manila clams, native littlenecks, and mussels. At the fish market I supplemented the shrimp and bought small bay scallops and Alaskan yellow-eye rockfish (sold as “red snapper,” a fish that doesn’t exist on the West Coast). There was a time when I might have speared my own rockfish but those along the inner shore of Puget Sound are too small and beleaguered to be harvested now.

The bivalves came from my usual beach, where we got limits of oysters, clams, and mussels. Too bad it was raining all day because the low-low tide exposed more of the beach than usual, which made for first-rate exploring. We found eels and other small fish hiding in the oyster beds, and one stretch was carpeted with sand dollars.

Here are my ingredients this time around. Remember that you can use just about anything that swims in the sea, or that filters salt water, as the case may be. Squid add lots of flavor. Just about any firm white-fleshed fish is a good choice; avoid more fragile-fleshed species such as flounder, sole, and thin cuts of cod as well as the dark-fleshed fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, tuna) that will overpower the stew. I used 2 cups of homemade shrimp stock. You can use a cup of clam juice plus a cup of chicken broth, or conventional fish stock. Fish heads are ideal if you can get them; my market was sold out.

2 dozen littleneck clams
2 dozen (or more) mussels
1 lb shrimp, shelled
1 lb bay scallops
1/2 cooked Dungeness crab, broken into leg segments
1 lb rockfish fillets, cut into 3-inch pieces
1-2 cups white wine (or red)
1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes with liquid
2 cups fish stock (or clam juice, shrimp stock, etc.)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions (or 1 large), chopped
2 ribs celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 bay leaf
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
fresh basil for garnish
good bread

In a heavy pot or Dutch oven saute the onions in olive oil over medium heat for a minute or two, then add the garlic, chopped vegetables, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Cook several minutes until veggies are soft, then stir in tomato paste. Cook another minute and pour in wine and let bubble for a couple minutes. Add tomatoes and stock, roughly chopping the whole tomatoes in the pot. Simmer for a least 30 minutes; longer is better. Add the crab legs and simmer another 15 minutes. When you’re ready to serve the stew, add the fin fish first and simmer for a few minutes, then add the shellfish. When the clams and mussels have all opened, stir in the parsley. It’s ready to eat. Serve piping hot with good crusty bread and some chopped basil for garnish.

As written above, this Cioppino will easily serve six, but for larger groups you can add another can of tomatoes, more wine and stock, extra seasoning, and leave the seafood amounts as is. Or, if serving a smaller group you might consider cutting the shrimp and scallops by half. All this seafood can be expensive when paying market prices, so tinker according to your budget and taste. It’s a very forgiving dish.

Ushering in a New Year of Wild Foods


New Year’s Eve is largely, in the view of FOTL, a letdown. If you brave the crowds downtown, you’re guaranteed a long, tedious night of bad food, overpriced bubbly, and boorish behavior. Here at FOTL, we prefer to indulge in boorish behavior in the privacy of our own home, with friends and accomplices who are forgiving of such boorish behavior. The food is a lot better too. (As is the late-night dance party…)

Once again my friend Tip and I donned the aprons to throw together huge vats of paella for our guests. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The dinner didn’t actually make an appearance until a quarter to midnight, the cooks being too busy quaffing cavas and wolfing down cheeses from The Spanish Table, including an etorki that was mindblowingly delicious. Over the course of several hours we enjoyed a feast of fresh oysters, calamari from recently foraged Pacific squid, bagna caôda compliments of our Piedmontese friends the Coras, and a full bar of booze and wine.

Though not wild in origin, the bagna caôda deserves special mention. Chris and Lori harvested winter vegetables from their garden and put together this fondue-like dish with an aromatic sauce of garlic, olive oil, anchovies, and butter, all of it heated in an attractive vessel over flaming Sterno. Really, there’s not much I can do to fully describe just how stinky and delicious this whorehouse specialty is. Sopping up bread with the sludge in the bottom—and I use the word sludge with utmost admiration—is one of the more prurient acts in the food world, always accompanied by an orgiastic chorus of oohs and ahhs. Cardoon is a traditional bagna caôda veggie; others include cauliflower, broccolini, beets, cabbage, fennel, and whatever else you want to stir into the hot bath. The taste is intense and lingers in the memory.

While I’m at it, I’ll hand out more props: to the Day-Reis gang for their marinated and barbecued lamb and the Hunter-Gales for their Big Salad. The Coras also brought over a few pounds of squid harvested out of Elliott Bay, a pound of which got sauteed up for a calamari appetizer. But the cornerstone of the feast—the menu item that set the gears into motion this New Year’s—was the paella.

Kitchen-Sink Paella for 10

We call it “Kitchen-Sink Paella” for obvious reasons. Each time we use a conflation of two or three or more recipes and end up using most of the ingredients from each, including but not restricted to: chicken, chorizo, squid, shrimp, mussels, clams, and oysters. Of those, only the chicken and sausage were store-bought this year, which is a new record. The other key ingredients are Spanish rice, saffron, and sweet pimentón (paprika). This time around we used the more expensive Bomba rice, which requires a higher 3 to 1 ratio of stock to rice—which in turn requires you, the cook, to properly estimate your size of cookware or risk a flood of paella.

Speaking of cookware, the traditional paella pan is large, steel, and fairly shallow, the broad shallowness allowing the rice to cook quickly without burning. According to PaellaPans.com, a 26-inch pan will serve 15. One of these years I’ll have to pick up the real thing, but in the meantime Tip and I have been getting by with unsanctioned cookware, including his well-named “everyday pan” and my large skillet. This year Tip forgot his pan, so we experimented with a Le Creuset French Oven, mainly because it was big enough.

In the past, if memory serves, we finished the paella in the oven; this time we decided to court tradition and not stir (this despite our choices of cookware; clearly multiple cavas were making mischief). The shallower skillet came through with flying colors but the deep French Oven took longer to cook and burned on parts of the bottom, though not in a calamitous way. The take-away here, to employ the verbiage of a former employer, is to use a broad, shallow pan. Memo to Santa…

Here’s what The Spanish Table has to say about cooking paella: “Traditionally, paella is not stirred during the second half of the cooking time. This produces a caramelized layer of rice on the bottom of the pan considered by many to be the best part. With a large pan, it is difficult to accomplish this on an American stove and you may prefer to stir the paella occasionally or move the pan around on the burner(s). Another alternative is to finish the paella by placing it in the oven for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking. Paelleras can also be used on a barbecue, or an open fire (the most traditional heat source).”

4 cups Bomba rice
12 cups chicken stock
2 large onions, chopped, or 1/4 cup per person
50 threads of saffron (5 per person), crushed, toasted, and dissolved in 1/2 cup white wine
4 tbsp (or more) olive oil
10 (or more) pieces of chicken, on the bone (thighs and drumsticks), or 1 per person
10 soft chorizo sausages, sliced (about 2 lbs), or 1 per person
5 tsp sweet or semi-sweet pimenton (paprika), or 1/2 tsp per person
10 cloves, minced, or 1 per person
1 large can diced tomatoes
2 lbs squid, cleaned and cut up
1 lb shrimp, shelled, or 2 per person
2 lbs clams in the shell, or 4 per person
1 lb mussels, or 2 per person
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 hot peppers, diced
1 10 oz package of frozen peas
chopped parsley and lemon wedges for garnish

1. Warm stock.
2. Toast saffron gently in small saute pan until aromatic, then add wine. Bring to boil and set aside.
3. Heat olive oil in large paella pan (or two pans), then brown chicken on all sides. Next add onions and garlic and cook until translucent before adding chorizo, cooking a few minutes.
4. Add rice, stirring until fully coated. Add paprika and tomatoes. Stir in saffron-wine mixture and all the stock. Bring to a boil while scraping bottom, then add peppers. Adjust heat to maintain a slow boil. After 5 minutes or so, add frozen peas and seafood, stirring in peas, squid, shrimp, and clams; arrange mussles by inserting vertically halfway into top.
5. Cook another 15 minutes or until rice is done and clams and mussels have opened. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and garnish with lemon wedges. Serve with good Spanish wines, lots of them.

Final Forage of ’08

I took advantage of a gap in the weather yesterday to shanghai Riley and his best friend Alec to our go-to shellfish beach. The snow had mostly melted and high winds and rain were yet to arrive. Even crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge the two second-graders ignored the world outside, too wrapped up in trading their Pokemon cards to admire the dramatic view of Puget Sound’s glacial pinch. They haggled in the back seat like a couple of old geezers.

But once on the clam beds the twenty-first century’s kiddie distractions began to slip away: Pokemon characters and Nintendo gave way to the visceral pleasures of working a shovel into the sand and uncovering a nice littleneck clam. The boys found sand dollars, caught a sculpin, and engineered a network of canals and locks as the tide receded. They dug clams and found mussels. They got a laugh out of a thieving gull that pilfered my container of shucked oysters the moment I turned my back.

When we got home, Alec proudly presented his mom with a limit of clams. I’ve got plans for our own haul: full limits of clams, mussels, and oysters will be part of tonight’s feast, which will incorporate a few other wild delicacies from 2008. More on that next year.

Happy New Year everyone!

Island Time


My apologies for the paucity of posts lately—FOTL has been on another summer sabbatical, this one sponsored by Mrs. Finspot (she of the Blue Positive blog) and her deathless poetry, which has landed us in Washington’s San Juan Islands for a stint at a writing residency. Whether in the tropics or more northerly latitudes, Island Time is a peculiar warbling of the solar clock that is most accurately expressed in the procrastinator’s maxim “why do today what you can put off until tomorrow.”

That and the fact that wi-fi here is next to non-existent. Those are my excuses and I’m sticking to ’em.

In any event, traveling offers a chance to tap into the local forage, putting a new spin on what otherwise might be old hat. Yesterday we explored English Camp on the northern tip of San Juan Island, where the shooting of a pig in 1859 nearly provoked war between the U.S. and Great Britain.

On the trail to Bell Point we browsed on the seldom-seen native Pacific blackberry (Rubus ursinus), also called the California blackberry. Less vicious (and less prolific) than the Himalayan blackberry (R. armeniacus), our native blackberries are ground-hugging creepers; conversely, all stout, self-supporting cane-like brambles are non-native exotic weeds.

Nearby Oregon grape was also in full berry mode. These are seriously sour berries, although some foragers (not FOTL) will make jams and jellies with them and even pies, given enough sugar.

At the point we knew right away we were in the right spot: several other clammers were working the shoreline, all of them sporting little inflatable rafts that they’d used to motor over from boats moored in the harbor. There are more boats than people in this neck of the woods, which means the clams are big and plentiful.

Mostly we got native littlenecks, Manila clams, and mussels, but we saw lots of geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck) shows. Some people, notably the Japanese, are partial to geoducks. Digging down five feet to recover a clam with meat the consistency of shoe leather is not part of FOTL’s repertoire at this point, but maybe it’s all in the cooking.

Finally, in a little bay near Roche Harbor we found what I’m pretty sure is known colloquially as “sea beans,” a member of the Salicornia genus of salt-tolerant plants that live in marshes, mangroves, and along beaches and are supposed to be edible and delicious. If anyone has experience cooking or eating sea beans, I’d like to hear from you.

Shellfish Stew


The last time my parents came to town we invited a bunch of friends over and served this Shellfish Stew to a dozen hungry guests. It’s a real crowd-pleaser. Who doesn’t like fresh seafood in the shell cooked in a tomato broth? The shrimp, in particular, help to flavor the stew. A dish like this can make you wonder why shrimp is ever sold and eaten sans shell—it’s the shell, folks, that’s packed with flavor! Whole shrimp, especially honking, insect-like spot shrimp that you’ve captured yourself, look cool too.

Marcella Hazan calls this recipe All-Shellfish and Mollusks Soup (p. 316, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, 10th printing). True, if something of a mouthful. I call it simply Shellfish Stew. My version differs from Marcella’s with its use of whole shrimp in the shell and more tomatoes. (Is it just me and my love of the New World fruit, or is Marcella a tad parsimonious with tomatoes in general?)

Shellfish Stew is similar to other classic seafood soups with its fresh shellfish and tomatoes, but it differs from a traditional Cioppino in its lack of finned fish. Like a bouillabaisse, which is a Provencal version of Cioppino, Shellfish Stew is served over a thick slice of toasted crusty bread; my preference is the Rosemary Diamante made by Seattle’s Essential Bakery.

2 lbs whole squid
2 dozen or more live littleneck clams
1 dozen live mussels
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, minced
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 large can (28 oz) canned plum tomatoes, chopped, with juice
1 lb fresh whole shrimp in shell, with tails sliced lengthwise for easy removal
salt and pepper to taste
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1 lb fresh scallops
Good crusty bread, sliced thick and toasted

1. Clean and slice squid into rings; leave tentacles attached and whole if small. Scrub clams and mussels.
2. Saute onions in oil on medium heat until translucent. Add garlic. When garlic is golden, add the parsley. Stir, then pour in wine and let bubble for half a minute before adding tomatoes with juice. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the squid and cook at a gentle simmer for 45 minutes. Add water if necessary.
4. Season stew with spices, then add the shrimp. Simmer five minutes before adding clams and mussels and turning up heat to high. Stir. As clams and mussels begin to open, add the scallops. Cook until all clams and mussels are open.
5. Ladle into large soup bowls, over toasted bread.

And don’t forget the leftovers: You have instant Shellfish Pasta.

Les Moules


Hard to beat an early afternoon repast of steamed mussels, crusty bread, and chilled wine with your sweetheart. On a Tuesday no less! That’s what schools and babysitters are for.

It’s been an interesting day that demanded an interesting lunch. Marty and I each opened Facebook accounts today. I’m no Luddite, but this level of connectivity is little bit frightening…and yet there we were, both of us marveling at the technology and hammering away at our respective laptops, cackling as we tried to out-friend the other. I had to concede when Marty pulled up the profile of one of her poetry pals and there was Cormac McCarthy. Oy! Not only is this poor world flat, it’s freakin’ tiny.

I had intended to eat the mussels we gathered on Sunday the very next day, but Cinco de Mayo and a lonely bottle of Patron intervened at a neighbor’s house. Nevertheless, the mussels kept well in the fridge-o-later, so no problems on that front. Meanwhile the clams are alive and well in the bucket, with no idea that tonight is Vongole Night.

This recipe is so simple it’s almost criminal.

Mussels with Wine, Cream & Fresh Thyme

1 lb mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
4-5 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup white wine
several sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup cream
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
seasoning to taste

Saute shallots in olive oil and melted butter until translucent. Add garlic and cook another minute or two. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour in wine and a handful of thyme and bring to boil. Add mussels and cover. When the mussels have all opened (5 or more minutes), stir in cream and serve immediately with white wine and good bread for dipping.