doing dinner night after night, attempting to create, recreate and, at times, plain copy recipes from my collection, i can easily understand how weary a cook can become, even one, like me, who serves one customer alone. making the daily rounds of the various markets, for fish, for meat, pasta and greens, spices, eggs, japanese and korean aspects, tends to be, if not french, so at least a lot of ‘bon-jour-monsieur---bonjour-madame’. fresh fare, always that. and yet, sometimes the imagination wants things seasonably challenged. like an artichoke, if for the heart alone. the question of frozen vs. canned is easy, frozen likely wins out, mostly. though canned, packed in water those choke retain much flavor and stay fairly intact. whereas frozen, brand specific, might mush, thawing the stuff to check for tough outer leaves takes time, which then makes frozen vs. canned a toss up.
our dinner last night then relied on water packed, reasonably solid small artichoke hearts. mussels, medium size shrimp and those hearts. set in a dense tomato sauce, a reduction spiced with star anise, juniper berries, sweet paprika, saffron and one head of soft roasted garlic.
as always specifics are key.
wild, california mussels are around but not likely available at a local store. those mussels are deep-flavored, have orange colored flesh and can be picked at low tide along the coast, from mexico to alaska. typically we ‘only’ get farmed mussels, the mediterranean kind, large fleshed, thin shelled and definitely not as fragrant as the wild bunch. but easy to purchase and safe to eat. wild ones can harbour paralytic shellfish poisoning and may indeed be fatal. a call to the shellfish information line at 800-553-4133 will tell what conditions prevail along the california/oregon coast. portland is nowhere near the coast, so i got mussels of the farmed kind. mussels by hieronymus bosch...
i did use alaskan spot prawns, 35/40 size. they were small and a pain to clean, alas sweet and nice to the bite.
tomatoes in march are strictly ‘san marzanos’, d.o.p., from the sarnese region in italy. a 28 ounce can, strained and seeded, yields about nine table spoons of pure tomato essence, fortified during the reduction with star anise and juniper berries. i like crunching those berries, but would strain out any star anise before serving.
it all comes together, mussels, prawns and artichoke when the sauce is dense and strong, after kindling its flavor with paprika (the sweet hungarian kind) a good dose of saffron from spain, some zest from california navels and a very local, soft-roasted head of garlic, creamed into the mix toward the end.
fresh papardelle, green and white, brought the dish together, thick slurpy pasta, in a rich pasty tomato slurry of mussels, shrimp and artichoke hearts.
i am not complaining, i love making up dishes, though they might have been cooked my way way before my time by some roman capocuoco anziano. stephanie helps with the eating. her requests, though peculiar at times, inspire my kitchen, ancient recipes or those made up just now.