Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Zuppa Di Cozze & Savory Fritter Flatbread

It has been less than a week since Meals with Morri began, and already I am noticing how much my perception of food and cookery has changed. I am making things that never would have occurred to me otherwise. Everywhere I go, everything I do, everyone I see inspires me in some shape or form.

Tonight’s dinner is a perfect example.

As mentioned in previous posts, the way I show love and respect for others (and myself) is through cooking. Laugh all you like, but I put as much love and good vibes as I can into every stage of preparing a meal. Even when I’m merely dicing a garlic clove or shimmying a spice or two into a bubbling concoction, I’m thinking happy thoughts. Why? Personally, I believe it gives food an extra taste of deliciousness. That, and it’s downright therapeutic for the wonderful person (That’s right, I’m talking to you, hon!) going out of their way to making a meal special.

And the equally wonderful people you made it for?  They’re definitely feeling the love.

 I had been planning tonight’s menu since last Saturday. Mama Dazz and I were out on our weekly food-shopping excursion when we stumbled upon frozen mussels on a half shell by the Harris Teeter seafood counter. Typically we only go there to get toilet paper, paper towels, and other random knickknacks, but she saw them and asked if I would be interested in using them for some romantic dinner in the near future. Since I had never cooked with mussels before, and am never one to turn down being romantic, I took on the challenge.

The next day, I had a cookbook and a recipe.

Italian Family Recipes from The Romagnolis’ Table is a delightful cookbook. Mama Dazz’s copy was printed in 1974, but it is clear this book has been used since then. The edges of the cover are torn in some places, and the front picture is faded slightly. There are bookmarks of different fashions (from tabs to folded pieces of paper to a Washington Dulles International Airport Washington flyer taxi receipt from 2002) for favorite recipes of old and pencil markings by specific ingredients listed.

And the best part about this charming book? Many of their recipes are naturally gluten free (or easily modified), and Mama Dazz showed me the one she thought I should try.

Zuppa di cozze is Italian for “mussel soup.” But to quote Margaret and G. Franco Romagnoli, it “is only a literal translation that in no way can indicate the delicate and exciting flavor of the dish.” And they are absolutely right. There are less than ten ingredients in the soup, and takes less than half an hour to make. In fact, prepping the ingredients took longer, simply because I had to ask my neighbor if they had a corkscrew while wearing my Monty Python killer rabbit slippers.

But I was determined. I was going to be romantic, darn it, even if it killed me. The boyfriend, also known as the man-man and other things equally as silly and embarrassing, was due to arrive in twenty minutes. I had this image in my head of how I wanted the dish to look, including the fritter-flatbread thing I wanted to incorporate for ultimate sauce absorption. As I was making two recipes that I’ve never made before for one meal, let’s just say the counter and stovetop looked like a war of the ingredients had just been declared.

It was all worth it, though. With over 200 recipes, I’ll definitely be looking to this cookbook again for inspiration. In fact, Pasta e ceci looks pretty good…

Zuppa di cozze

1 lb / 16 Frozen mussels on a half shell
2 – 3 tbsp. Olive oil
2 Garlic cloves, finely diced
1/4 tsp. Red pepper flakes
2 c. Peeled plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. Italian dry white wine (I wholeheartedly recommend Gaetano d'Aquino’s Pinot Grigio)
1/2 tsp. Sea salt
2 – 4 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Put the oil in a big soup pot.
Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and sauté over medium heat.
When the garlic reaches a nice golden brown, add the tomatoes, wine, and salt.
Cook for 4 minutes, raise the heat to medium-high, and place the mussels throughout the soup pot in a way that they can evenly cook and are slightly dunked into the liquid.
Cover the pot and let the mussels cook for about 10 minutes.
Once the mussels are fully cooked, add the parsley, stir carefully, and serve in big soup bowl with slices of bread (or the following recipe).

Serves 2 (a romantic dinner).

Savory Fritter Flatbread

*I used Ruhlman’s fritter ratio for this recipe. It’s not technically a fritter, as it doesn’t have a garnish to go along with it, and is more of a savory pancake… thing. Anyway, it performed its function marvelously (which was to sop up the remaining juices at the bottom of the bowl). I’m going to try a different liquid and/or flour combination next time, but the fritter’s pancake-like look and feel to it (without a garnish) was very appealing.

1 oz Quinoa flour
1 oz Millet flour
1 oz Amaranth flour
1 oz Arrowroot starch
1 tsp. Baking powder
1/4 tsp. Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 oz Vegetable stock (or water, milk, etc.)
1 large egg
A smidgen or two Cumin and Curry powder (optional)

Combine the flour, salt, pepper, baking powder, and spices.
Combine the stock and egg into the flour mixture, and whisk until thoroughly combined.
On a greased skillet, pour the desired amount of batter* (I used a 1/4 c. measuring cup and filled it half way) over a medium heat until done.

Makes 8.

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