A steamy pot of mussels or clams is a rather effective, yet extremely simple and easy dish. It takes so little time to prepare it that it almost seems unfair. Anyway, if you're looking for a spectacular main for a date, a family dinner or a larger party, go for shellfish. They're great with white wine, but beer and cider make delicious alternatives.
Recipe: Clams steamed with cider
1 kg of clams, cleaned
2 shallots, diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
one tbsp. of butter
300 ml of dry cider
2 tbsp. of freshly chopped parsley
Melt butter in a large pot.
Add garlic and shallots and cook until tender.
Add clams and wine, increase the heat and cover the pot.
Cook for about 5 minutes, until shells has opened.
Top with fresh parsley. Serve with fresh baguette and a glass of chilled cider.
Bloody Mary seems to be a good friend of everyone who ever had to deal with the morning-after syndrome. Potassium and vitamin C (and vodka) make it a perfect choice for brunch, especially when Mimosa is just not enough.
There are at a few conflicting claims of who invented the Bloody Mary (and even if most of these bartenders are lying, it's hard to blame them). The cocktail was probably created in the first half of the 20th century. Its name comes from sorbiquet given to Queen Mary I of England, known for gory executions of Protestants when she tried to turn England back to Roman Catholicism.
The simplest recipe includes vodka and tomato juice, the most classic mix adds lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco, salt and pepper. There are numerous variations. Bloody Fairy contains absinth instead of vodka, Bloody Maria replaces vodka with tequila, Bloody Moly - with Irish whiskey. The inventors of Bloody Bull combined beef bouillon with tomato juice, the admirers of Bloody Mariyaki substitute Worcestershire sauce with teriyaki. Bloodless Mary comes without tomato juice, Bloody Shame is a sad cocktail without vodka.
The most common garnish is a celery stalk, sometimes coming with olives, pickles and lemon slices. More elaborate ones include jalapeño peppers, becon, cheese, oysters or shrimp. The most extraordinary Bloody Marys are garnished with mini burgers (as well as full-size burgers), pizza slices (as well as entire pizzas) and hot dogs.
Recipe: Bloody Mary
Serves: 2 adults
160 ml of vodka
320 ml of tomato juice
juice of one lemon
5-6 dashes of tabasco
a dash of salt
a dash of pepper
Combine all the ingredients in cocktail shaker with a few cubes of ice.
Although it’s not a confirmed fact, the term sardine may actually come from the island of Sardinia, around which sardines were once abundant. Despite its obvious connections with fish and water, Sardinian cuisine is mostly based on meat. Naturally, you can enjoy a pot of fresh mussels and clams or a platter of langoustines and squids in a seaside trattoria. What is more, one of the local specialities, called bottarga, is a delicacy of salted, cured fish roe, served similarly to grated parmesan to add flavour to simple pasta dishes. The most renowned Sardinian dish is, however, porceddu - roasted whole suckling piglet, grilled on a fire built with aromatic woods, seasoned with myrtle, which is one of the most remarkable aromas of the island. Due to numerous invasions that the island had suffered from (starting as early as with the Carthaginians in the 6th century BC), Sardinians were forced to move their settlements towards the centre of the island, which meant walking away from the richness of seafood.
Sardinian cuisine was strongly influence by the pastoralism, which’s story is as old as the story of Sardinia itself. Most of the island’s territories are grazings, unsuitable for any other agricultural production. This is why herding (mostly sheep, but also goats and cattle) had to become one of the most common occupation for the islanders. Shepherds needed food that was simple, nutritious and easy to transport, like maturing meats and cheeses, which get more flavourful with age and special types of bread. Thin and crispy carasau can be stored in a dry place for up to a year. Another light flatbread, pistoccu, can be eaten dry or softened with water. Then there’s civraxiu, crispy on the outside, soft and chewy inside. Owing to the preparation method and combination of ingredients, it can stay soft for a long time.
A careful culinary observer will easily spot traces of foreign cultures. The most evident ones come from Spain, as Sardinia was under Spanish control for a several centuries. One will find the very same whole roasted piglet in Castilian cookbooks, under the name cochinillo asado. Another example is favata (in Italian) or fabata (in Spanish) - a hearty stew made in the winter with dried fava beans and pork. Arabic influences are visible when it comes to spices (saffron is now grown on the island and used to season soups and stews), roasted lamb, chickpeas and eggplants.
Another example of Arabic legacy is fregola - little balls of pasta made with semolina. It’s particularly popular in the southwestern part of the island, where it was probably brought by Ligurian merchants from today’s Tunisia. Fregola is closely related to Maghreb’s couscous, it is even called Sardinian couscous. In fact it resembles pitim, the Israelian take on couscous, more. The balls are bigger that the regular couscous and toasted after drying, which gives them unique golden colour and characteristic taste.
Fregola is served with fish soups and meat broths or with sauce. It is traditionally paired up with clams and tomato sauce (fregola alle arselle) or with hard sheep’s milk cheese, pecorino sardo (fregola incasada; incasado is a Sardinian term for ‘seasoned with cheese’, Sardinian pecorino in most of the cases). The recipe below is a modified version of the classic, fregola with clams and mussels.
Recipe: Fregola sarda with mussels and clams
1/2 kg of mussels
1/2 kg of clams
1 1/2 cup of dry fregola sarda
3 garlic cloves, sliced
one large onion, diced
2 cups of scalded, peeled and diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cup of dry white wine
one tbsp. of brown sugar
3 tbsp. of olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and onion and cook until golden brown.
Add tometoes, season with sugar, salt and pepper. Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, until sauce begins to thicken.
Add one cup of wine, increase the heat, bring to boil, add fregola and cook for 4 minutes.
Add remaining wine, bring to boil. Add mussels and clams, cover the skillet and cook over high heat until they open.
Seafood has three essential assets: it’s scrumptious, it’s healthy and it’s almost ludicrously easy to prepare. A pot of mussels and prawns is one of the simplest and most effective dishes you can serve your friends at dinner. The most difficult step might actually be getting fresh seafood.
Once you’ve put your hand on some deliciously fresh mussels and prawns, it’s a piece of seafood cake. Start with throwing away defective mussels: tap open mussels against the counter and, if they don’t close up immediately, discard them. Next, rinse mussels under cold water, cut the beards and brush off any sand or debris from the shells. If your guests happen to enjoy interacting with their food, you can limit yourself to rinsing prawns before cooking. If, on the other hand, this might cause horror rather than pleasure, you can do some more work yourself. Chop off the heads, pull off the shells and legs and use a sharp knife to make slits around prawns’ back and belly in order to devein them.
Now all you need is some butter, a few cloves of garlic, onion, white wine, lemon juice, fresh parsley and a crispy baguette. If you want to keep it really simple, butter, garlic and white wine are enough for a mouthwatering dish. Or, if for some reason you have failed to get the seafood, wine will be fine on its own. White or red, doesn’t really matter at this point. Just make sure there is enough for everyone.
Recipe: Seafood pot with mussels and prawns
1 kg of fresh mussels, cleaned
200 g of fresh tiger prawns
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
one medium red onion, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp. of butter
2 cups of dry white wine
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp. of finely chopped parsley
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Melt butter in a heavy-bottom pot. Add garlic and onion and saute over medium heat until they are soft, but not browned.
Add wine and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Add mussels and prawns, cover the pot, increase heat to high and cook for about 5 minutes - until the mussel shells open and the prawns turn pink.
Before serving, top with parsley and freshly ground pepper and drizzle with lemon juice. Serve with a crispy baguette.