When asked that inevitable small gathering question — What food would you take on a desert island if you could only take one? – well, for me, it would have to be pasta. Specifically, spaghetti. Practically speaking, you could gather and catch all sorts of things that you could put on pasta and have an entirely enjoyable meal. Think of the lemons and limes you could squeeze onto the pasta, along with all of the fresh seafood.
Because, friends, while I love a red sauce with meatballs and Italian sausage, and I think a good Bolognese sauce is out of this world, there is nothing I like better than pasta with clams or shrimp or calamari or scallops or – oh my word – lobster.
I love most kinds of seafood – both fish and shellfish. Off the top of my head, I actually can’t think of a kind of fish that I don’t like. And here’s the thing – spending my formative years in the heart of cattle and corn country, fish and shellfish were not big on the list of things we ate while growing up.
Being a cradle Catholic, I well remember the days when you couldn’t eat meat on Friday. Mom would throw together a salmon loaf or a tuna casserole or maybe heat up some fish sticks on Friday. Dad would be crabby. But then she and Dad would stay up until midnight so that she could fry him a skinny steak and some eggs. But I don’t remember her ever preparing any kind of fresh and delicious fish. At least not when I was a child.
There’s probably a reason for the lack of fresh fish in her cooking repertoire – no fresh fish available. I have no recollection of any fish being sold in the grocery stores. Perhaps you could have found some frozen fish, though I’m not even sure about that. I don’t remember finding fish on the menu of any restaurants except perhaps for trout almondine. Anglers might have pulled fish out of some of the nearby lakes, and there were probably some kind of fish swimming in the Missouri River that borders eastern Nebraska, but none made it to the Gloor table.
So why do I like fish so much?
Bill is a different story. He tolerates some fish. Up until about a year ago, I would have told you Bill dislikes all fish. After more than 20 years of marriage, I finally figured out that he really only dislikes salmon – which is the fish I always tried to feed him. He would never complain, but his face always looked so sad when I placed the salmon down in front of him. Now I know I can serve him a mild white fish like tilapia, and he only looks a little sad.
“Did your mother ever make fish when you were little?” I asked him the other day.
He said yes, but pretty much like my mom did. Tuna casserole, perhaps trout almondine. Since Bill’s father grew up in North Carolina, I imagine fish wasn’t what he was yearning for after a hard day’s work at the steel mill either. But Bill said there was one kind of fish the entire family enjoyed. There was a restaurant called Phil Schmidt’s in Hammond, Indiana. Every once in a while, Rex and Wilma McLain would pile the four kids into the Buick and drive to Hammond for lake perch. I hope I can try fresh lake perch before I die.
You either like fish or you don’t. The majority of our grandkids like most fish. Dagny says no thank you to fish of any kind, as does Kaiya. But the other day Bill and Alastair went on an outing that included lunch, and when Alastair was asked what he wanted, instead of the hamburger Bill expected him to order, he chose fish and chips. Alastair will ALWAYS choose fish of any kind. You should see him when I make mussels.
I’ve been going on and on about fish because the last recipe I’m going to post this week includes scallops. This recipe is a bit different from the others I have posted this week in that it is a recipe I have made many times. However, it comes from a cookbook from which I make exactly two recipes – this one and Spaghetti Carbonara. I could actually just copy these two recipes down and give away the cookbook. However, I happen to really love this particular cookbook despite its limited use by me. So it maintained its place on my bookshelf following the Great Cookbook Giveaway.
By the way, in the same way that I WISH I liked to garden and I WISH I liked baseball, I WISH I liked to fish. I look longingly at the folks standing in the river on the way up to Estes Park wearing rubber boots to their knees and casting their flys. I know! I can spend the day fishing, come home and grill up the fresh trout, serve it with the green beans I harvested from my garden, and listen to the Colorado Rockies on the radio. In my next life.
Scallop Sauce with Olive Oil, Garlic, and Hot Pepper, courtesy Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
1 lb. fresh bay or deep sea scallops
½ c. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. garlic, chopped very fine
2 T. chopped parsley
Chopped hot red chili pepper, to taste
1 to 1-1/2 lb. pasta
½ c. dry, unflavored bread crumbs, lightly toasted in the oven or in a skillet
Recommended pasta: As in so many other seafood sauces, spaghettini, thin spaghetti, is the most congenial shape but spaghetti is an equally valid choice.
Wash the scallops in cold water, pat thoroughly dry with a cloth towel, and cut up into pieces about 1/8 in thick.
Put the olive oil and garlic in a saucepan, turn on the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until the garlic becomes colored a light gold. Add the parsley and hot pepper. Stir one or twice, then add the scallops and one or two large pinches of salt. Turn the heat up to high, and cook for about 1-1/2 min, stirring frequently, until the scallops lose their shine and turn a flat white. Do not overcook the scallops or they will become tough. Taste and correct for salt and hot pepper. If the scallops should shed a lot of liquid, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and boil down the watery juices. Return the scallops to the pan, turn them over quickly, then turn off the heat.
Toss thoroughly with cooked drained pasta, add the bread crumbs, toss again, and serve at once.
Nana’s Notes: I always use the little bay scallops as I think they are sweeter and more bite-sized for this dish. Since the use of Parmgiano Reggiano cheese is eschewed with seafood in Italy, the bread crumbs provide a little extra flavor and crunch. I absolutely LOVE this sauce, and always serve it with spaghetti. Serve with bread to dip in the olive oil. It would work perfectly on a desert island.
By Essentials of Italian Cooking from Amazon here.
By Essentials of Italian Cooking from Barnes and Noble here.