Last night, we had one of Joe’s favorite meals. He is, after all, Italian. My favorite market, which is usually too pricey, except when they have a special kind of deal, had fresh, small manila clams on sale for $3.99 a pound. I bought a scant pound, just enough for dinner and maybe a little left over. I would make Linguine Alle Vongole, linguini with clam sauce.
Trace came out with me, of course, to fetch the parsley from the remains of my herb bed. It was dark (it seems that it’s always dark now after 5:00, even though the days are supposedly beginning to get longer) and I had to step cautiously because it had begun to snow earlier and there was almost an inch of accumulation already. I groped for the parsley with one hand and snipped with my scissors, each little remaining head of parsley capped with a bit of snow. Amazingly, it was still green and fresh and still seemed to be growing. Our winter has been mild so far and the sleeping garden seems to like that.
This particular dish is my idea of really good comfort food. Served in a soup bowl with a sprinkling of grated parmesan and a crusty piece of bread to sop up the wonderful sauce, it’s easy to understand why Joe, my sweet Sicilian husband, would love this so much. It’s like bringing the sunshine in.
This morning, we woke up to a fresh winter wonderland. It was still snowing when we took Trace for a morning romp. We only had to say the word “walk” almost in a whisper and his ears shot up and he sat at attention, ready to go. We barely had to ask him to get his collar or Joe’s shoes (mine were already outside). He ran eagerly to Joe, collar in mouth, ready to go.
As always, with a fresh snow, all sound seems to disappear into the whiteness. Our feet made a soft muffled thunk in the wet snow and every once in a while a clump of fresh snow fell from a branch and dropped to the ground in a whisper. Sunday and no one was out and the streets were still pristinely white. I was surprised to note that our lovely border collie actually looked a little dingy against the snow, his usually snowy collar now almost creamy by comparison.
Joe had the chucker and a ball so that was all that counted, as far as Trace was concerned. Such a luxurious pleasure it was to watch him run flat out, in the street, free and unleashed, doing his border collie thing. He ran and ran, not just chasing the ball, but running for the sheer pleasure of breaking free in his own neighborhood. At some point, even he had to rest and catch his breath and lie in a snow bank, ball in mouth, tongue out, panting with pleasure.
I made an Italian sausage soup for lunch. This kind of day called for a hearty soup, especially after a morning’s exercise in the snowy neighborhood. I had some concentrated chicken juices from the roast chicken we had last week, and a couple of sausage links in the freezer. This would also be a good time to begin to use some of the greens that I had frozen this past summer. Joe was watching a football game, and I could hear the action from the kitchen (I’ve come to enjoy football, at least at the end of the season when the best teams duke it out), and as I put the soup together, I realized I was as happy as I ever could be. I could look out toward the street and the trees, dressed in a white lace of snow, as we were snug and safe in our warm home, lights glowing softly, TV action in the next room, our border collie splayed out on the rug, relaxed after a big run.
We may be at the low end of the income ladder, but we have enough. We have a snug home, we have our love and our health, and I’m making a good soup for lunch. Life is good.
Italian Sausage Soup
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons EVOO
½ onion, chopped
1 or 2 Italian sausage links cut in pieces
1 carrot, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can great Northern beans, with juice
8 cups chicken stock (I used leftover pan juices, which are quite concentrated, and water to make about 8 cups)
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (or Herbs de Provence—the same thing)
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 package frozen leaf spinach (I used 1 packet of frozen turnip greens from this summer)
In a large pot on medium heat, sauté the garlic, onions, sausage and herbs together for a few minutes or until sausage has cooked through. Add carrots, celery, tomatoes, and beans and toss together. Add stock and spinach and simmer until flavors blend, about thirty minutes. Add ground sea salt and pepper to taste.
Place a crusty piece of bread in a soup bowl and ladle soup over it. Grate a bit of Parmesan cheese over the soup and serve. Makes about twelve cups of soup.
Linguine Alle Vongole Linguini with Clam Sauce
¼ cup EVOO
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 can diced tomatoes
¼ cup white wine
1 pound small Manila clams
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 package linguini pasta
In a deep pan, large enough to hold the clams, sauté the garlic and half the chopped parsley on medium heat, only until the garlic is fragrant and still golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until much of the juice has thickened, about 20 minutes. Add the wine and simmer for about 2 minutes until alcohol has cooked off.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil. Drizzle in about a tablespoon of olive oil and add pasta. Cook according to package directions, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Toss the clams into the sauce and cover immediately. Cook about 5-7 minutes. Discard any clams that have not opened. Add the cream and stir together.
Using a spider, lift out the pasta from the boiling water and add it to the sauce. Add the remaining parsley and stir together. Serve in soup bowls with crusty bread. Grate a little Parmesan cheese over each bowl.
I realize that as I write this recipe. I have used the word “about” quite a few times. This is because this is such a malleable dish. What we have here is the basis of most recipes, which begin with ingredients on hand, what can be done with them, what tastes good together, and even—what do I feel like eating as I put this together. So, in this case, the recipe can be expanded to feed a large group—or family. It can be adapted for only two people, and it only requires a few very simple ingredients. I suppose if you don’t like clams, you could substitute another sea fish—shrimp, maybe? And if you have an abundance of tomatoes (which, for me only happens in late summer), use fresh ones by all means. The essential simplicity of this dish is what makes it versatile enough to be able to use the word “about” in trying to describe how to put it together.