Some days I get inspired to turn in and nest. Whether it is home renovations and improving our surroundings, or inviting good friends over for a meal that is stick to your ribs homey and delicious. Today is just such a day. With foodie friends Ian and Jenn, and neighbours who appreciate fine dining Mark and Tammy – it all seemed to come together. With the rain pouring down, a nip of cold in the air, and the wind blowing with vigour, I needed to put together something that felt like it would stimulate conversation and make the mouth water.
A couple of years ago, I made something called Cioppino. It is a genovese dish that takes the best that the sea has to offer that day, adds in tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil and parsley and builds an infusion of mediterranean flavours. In short, it is a type of fisherman’s broth that one can find in variations all over the world. A quick trip to the fish counter to find the flavours I love. Fresh mussels and cherry clams, a bit of crab and plenty of shrimp, and a nice piece of monkfish. Monkfish is a fish that stands up to cooking well that many call the poor man’s lobster. Now I don’t know if I have been blessed with eating exceptional East coast Canadian lobster that is sweet and tender – but monkfish tastes nothing like lobster to me!
I have now completed my tomato broth which will act as my base. Because I had plenty, I added in some shallots and plenty of garlic, and along with the tomatoes, some spinach. For some je ne sais quois (and because I saw it somewhere in a cooking magazine) I added in a few dashes of worchestershire sauce. My mother always added in sugar into her tomato sauce to cut the acid a bit. While I love her meat sauce, I wanted a lighter sweetness so used brown sugar this time. The sauce is simmered lightly.
Next step is the various seafood to be cooked. This is more of a last minute thing that I do after guests have arrived and drinks are firmly in hand. With some lovely olive oil that is organic and from Malta (and only used for special occasions) I saute garlic and then add some pesto. Now I have made my own pesto – but frankly for me it is a staple I love to have on hand all the time. A couple of tablespoons of store bought pesto goes into the pot, immediately followed by the clams and the mussels. The flavours start to pop and a bit of liquid is needed, so I add in clam juice and some white wine as the shell fish begin to open up. In goes the monfish and crab, as well as some saffron. A few more minutes pass and at the last minute I add in the scallops. I tried to find fresh octopus yesterday, but was out of luck. Plus I am not sure how my guests will like it. The heat is dropped right down to a simmer, and I add in ladles of the tomato broth that I have cooked and all the flavours start to infuse.
I did say food that sticks to the ribs and I like more than just the bread to sop up the sauce as a carb. I decided to also make a risotto. As you can imagine, timing is everything as I am making both the seafood and the rice at the same time. My trick is to make sure I have a glass of wine next to me. It does triple action lubricating me, the risotto and the seafood. Yes, I do need an entire bottle to myself. Galloping Gourmet? Hardly, more like stumbling. This risotto needs to be fresh and counterpoint the tomato broth. So I have decided to add some lemon rind and juice to it near the end, topped with fresh basil and a black olive tapenade. A bit of balsamic glaze on heirloom tomatoes on the side will round it all up and voila – food is served family style with crusty bread.
Here is the thing about me and cooking. I love food, I love shopping for food, I love the colours and the fusion of ingrediants, I love cookbooks, magazines and websites dedicated to food. Given a different life or a change in my path – eating and cooking and sharing it would be a passion for me to pursue. Here is the problem: I never write anything down, I never follow a recipe (which is precisely why I don’t bake) and I have never made the same thing twice. Oh I try to replicate dishes – but every time it is a bit different.
Reminds me of our dinner parties. While the friends are often the same, the conversation is different, the ambiance is changing and our enjoyment of one another endures. The time with friends is as unique as the dishes served. And that is just fine with me.