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Posts Tagged ‘clams’

Sorry to all of my loyal readers (all 3 of you) for not posting anything in a while. Been pretty busy with life and life itself. Yesterday was by birthday however, so Yuki and Otis took me out for dinner. Tired of overpaying for mediocre celebrity-chef meals I wanted to go somewhere more casual and Otis-friendly. Also, now that we’re in the South Loop I wanted somewhere close. So, Tapas Valencia it was.

We’ve actually been there once before a long time ago. We joined a couple of friends for their happy hour tapas specials before heading down to Hyde Park to watch the movie, “Food, Inc.”. I remember it being very good and had a taste for bacon-wrapped dates. It all made perfect sense to head there last night.

Without further ado, here’s what was on our dinner table.

First up was the Calamares A La Plancha. The squid was perfectly cooked…soft and tender, yet crispy at the same time. A little too much salt, but not so much that it killed the dish.

Next we had the Jamon con Melon. You really can’t beat quality Serrano Ham on top of ripe, sweet, juicy cantaloupe. With cantaloupe at it’s finest about now we couldn’t pass on this one. Served with a simple cucumber and tomato relish this was tapas at it’s finest.

Then we had the Pado Confitado, duck confit with apples and mushrooms. Fall-apart duck leg, apples, and mushrooms…need I say more?

I can’t remember the name of this dish in Spanish, it was a special on the menu. Short rib braised in Rioja and then served with garlic and rosemary Israeli Couscous and spinach. While this dish was missing one note, something slightly acidic like tomato or even a small squirt of orange or lemon, this could’ve been an entrée unto itself.

Finally, our last tapas (or is it tapa?), the Datiles Con Tocino. Crisp bacon around sweet dates smothered in a roasted red pepper sauce, that’s where it’s at! A true crowd-pleaser if there ever was one.

While I did say that was our last tapas, it wasn’t our last dish. We also split an order of the Paella Valenciana. Paella with mussels, clams, shrimp, and chicken. This was huge! I’m glad we only got one order. I will say that my paella is a little better, but this was a very delicious paella, it just didn’t have that crisp burnt rice on the bottom that I love. I wasn’t dissatisfied at all though.

For dessert we split the flan of the day, coconut. Not too rich or sweet, this one was just right. I don’t think coconut is typical in Spain, but coconut almost always makes a great flan. This is one of the better flan in Chicago.

To drink it all down we forgoed the Sangria and went for a couple of glasses of Clara, which apparently is Spain’s most popular drink right now. It’s Alhambra Beer (a Spanish Lager) with a little lemonade. I was a little skeptical at first, but I will say that it wasn’t bad at all. I mean, you put lime in Corona, why not a little lemonade in Spanish Lager?

The service was great too. Very friendly and attentive. They gave us more of a private table where Otis’s stroller wouldn’t get in the way, and where it’d be a little quieter for him. Food was served and cleared in a timely fashion as well. It was a little slow being a Wednesday night, but this seems to be a very well run restaurant.

All in all, there are probably better Spanish and Tapas joints somewhere, but I haven’t found them yet here in Chicago. The dishes are well prepared, the portions are big, and the quality of ingredients are high. If anything, and I hate to say this, the prices might be a little too low for what you get. But don’t tell Tapas Valencia that.

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Alright, so I don’t just cook for Uichiro when he’s here, I also cook for Tamiko. She’s a huge fan of Italian food as well as seafood. That said, I thought a nice pasta with clams would be just the trick. With Uichiro back in Japan already, this dish would also make him a little jealous since he’s probably eating a take-home bento box right now. Sorry Uichiro.

I wanted to get all of the sand and grit out of the clams so the first thing I did was purge them. To do that all I did was rinse them real well in cold water and then let them sit in cold salt water with some cornmeal for about 2 hours. What this does is trick them into thinking that the cornmeal is sand so it cycles it through spitting out any real sand in the process. Just before cooking I rinsed them again in fresh cold water. Since I was cooking for 3 I used 15 clams. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Iris Tsai (Ming’s mom) it’s that 5 is a good number for a plate of food.

One of my side dishes was a simple bruschetta. I prepared that ahead of time so that come dinner all I had to do was toast the bread and top it. I used some fresh basil chopped up, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan, 3 tomatoes diced, 1 garlic clove peeled, 1.5 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a some ciabatta.

In a glass bowl I whisked together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan along with some salt and pepper until it was emulsified. Then I added the tomatoes and basil and mixed it thoroughly. I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge until dinner time. That way, all I had to do was toast the bread, rub the garlic over the toast, and then top it with the tomato-basil mix.

I also made a simple Italian bean and vegetable soup. I used one carrot cut into half moons, 14oz can of cannellini beans, 1 cup chicken stock, 1/2 onion diced, 1 garlic clove minced, and a large handful of baby spinach.

I threw everything except for the beans into a pot and brought it up to a boil. I covered the pot, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then I added the beans and let it simmer for another 3 minutes. Since the beans were canned I had no need to cook them, just heat them through. A little salt and pepper and that’s all she wrote for this one.

My final side dish was simple roast asparagus. I cleaned up 15 spears and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan. They went into a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Finally, the main event! For the pasta I used 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, 1/4 cup of white wine, a pinch of red pepper flakes, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 6oz capellini (I didn’t actually use spaghetti because I already had some capellini open in my cupboard), 1 garlic clove thinly sliced, and my clams.

In a large pot of boiling salt water I cooked the pasta until about 2 minutes before al dente. I reserved a ladle of the pasta water and drained the noodles and set them aside.

While that was going on I heated up my large pan and poured in the olive oil. I added the garlic and let it sautee until it turned a light golden brown, then I added the red pepper flakes. I swirled that all around for about 15 seconds to make sure the flavors mixed into all of the oil. Then I poured in the wine, added the clams, covered the pan, and let the clams cook for about 6 minutes or so until they were all opened up. If any clams don’t open then throw them away, they’re dead. Fortunately, all 15 of these were alive and well…that is until I killed them in my spicy garlicky wine sauce!

Once the clams were open I set them aside in a bowl and poured the reserved pasta water into the pan. Once it came to a boil I added the noodles and let them cook in the wine sauce for about 2 minutes. Then I added the clams back, along with any juices that accumulated in the bottom of the bowl, as well as the parsley. I tossed it all around and then served everything up, Buon Appetito!

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What many people don’t know is that the Spanish were using pasta way before Marco Polo brought it over to Italy. I’m referring to fideos, short pasta that’s very similar to broken angel hair. In fact, if you can’t find fideos you can easily use angel hair pasta. Just break it down into 2-3 inch pieces. Another difference is that the Spanish like to toast the dried pasta before using it. This does two things. First, it adds an extra nuttiness to the flavor. Second, this causes the pasta to get even drier allowing it to soak up more of the sauce. Cooking fideos with clams is a classic Spanish dish, although I added more vegetables than the Spanish typically do to clams. I’m Jewish (I know I know, clams aren’t Kosher, but I’m not a religious man, I’m a foodie!), not Spanish, so I can get away with that.

The first thing I did was toast the fideos. I spread about 4-5 oz’s on some foil and toasted them until they became nice and dark golden in color. Then I let them sit and cool while I prepared the rest of the dish.

My ingredient list is two chopped celery ribs, half an onion diced, 1 purple potato diced, two plum tomatoes chopped and seeded, three garlic cloves minced, some broccoli florets broken down into smaller pieces, handful of basil leaves from my back porch, and a half cup of white wine. I also quartered an eggplant lengthwise, but that was used as a side and not in the main dish.

Of course, the stars of the show were the clams. I used little neck clams and got 12 of them for two portions. I only needed 5 per person, but got the extras in case some didn’t open. Sometimes my brain works perfectly as two of them didn’t open during cooking.

I started by sautéing the garlic and onion in some olive oil for about 6 minutes, just until the onion started to get translucent. Then I added the celery and let that go for another 3 minutes before added the potato. The potato was cut small enough that it didn’t need too much time to cook through, only about 5 or six minutes before adding the broccoli. Again, the broccoli was cut pretty small, it only needed about 3 minutes or so, then I added the tomato and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a few dashes of paprika. I mixed it all together and then added the toasted fideos. Once the fideos were well incorporated I poured in the white wine and let that come to a quick boil. Once boiling, in went the clams. I covered the pot and shook it around every minute until the clams opened up, anywhere from 3-6 minutes. Any clams that don’t open need to get tossed in the garbage immediately.

I kept the eggplant extremely simple. I heated up some olive oil to its smoking point and pan-fried the eggplant on all sides until it got a nice toasty color. If the oil isn’t hot enough the eggplant will absorb it all, so you need to make sure it’s hot.

To serve, I took the clams out off the pot and stirred in the basil leaves. That also allowed all of the clam juices to be evenly mixed into the dish. Then, I just put the clams on top of the fideos and vegetables in the bowl and drank everything down with the white wine I used in the dish. I sliced up some crusty bread to mop up the juices.

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