If you’ve been following the blog for any length of time, you’ve probably realized that I have been somewhat absent.
This I assure is by no means an indication that I'm overcome with boredom after being at it for 5 years.....yes 5 years! But rather the result of something exciting I have been working on this year.
I’ve just returned from what can only be described as a spectacular Culinary vacation in Sicily. It’s been something I have been working on all year that I put it together for fellow foodies. Many of these wonderful folks who joined have been cooking with me for over 2 years. And let’s face it, good people know good people. So by that philosophy we ended up with friends, their better friends and spouses – a merry band of 11 if you will.
And boy did we have a blast!
From street food tours in Palermo, to a beautiful Azienda Agricola in the countryside where we learned all about artisinal olive oil, cooking classes with two of Sicily’s finest Instructors, hole in the wall places with amazing food in the villages like Chiaramonte Gulfi to Michelin restaurants to the insanely beautiful Baroque towns like Modica serving up some of the finest gnocchi pillows I have ever eaten in my entire life to vineyard tours, whew! we’ve done it all.
At our last meal together, someone asked me how I had managed to bring together 9 fantastic, strong women to the table? And I realized, it’s because the real treasure in what we do are the people. And if we’re lucky enough like I’ve been, then your paths cross with these incredible folks and what results are working relationships that turn into true friendships. And herein for me, lies the real wealth, the real treasure.
As I’m back and slowly finding my feet under me, I find myself looking at the hundreds of pics – moments forever captured in stillness which would otherwise be lost, and I see why Sicily is so haunting. Don’t get me wrong, I love Italia. Period.
But Sicily has so many faces and that to me is what makes it truly haunting. As I got off the small plane from the mainland walking down the metal stairs, in the shadow of the rock mountain in Palermo, I thought to myself, “Dorothy, you ain’t in Kansas anymore”!
The traffic, the insanity of Palermo with its magnificent grandiose architecture and incredible street foods to the stark beauty of its landscape – hues of brown due to the large volcanic Mt Etna never quite far away, the countryside often littered by plastic bags that is quite surprising and turns out a sore subject with the locals, to the peaceful olive orchards on the west coast, the spell bounding magnificence of the Baroque towns to the glistening azure colors of the limestone formations of Scala dei turchi– the steps of Turkey to the endless horizon of vineyards in Central Italy, Sicily is one place with a myriad faces.
So whether I sit at the breakfast table nursing my cup of coffee (no longer prepared by the very excellent barista Valerio in Modica) or going to dinner at a neighbourhood restaurant, I realize, that just like saying good bye to a close friend, I am suffering separation from Sicily. Nothing tastes quite the same – as my friend Kathy kept saying through out the trip, “it all tastes like buttah!”
So whether it’s the bread, the meat, the shrimp, I’m ruined! And so I look over to Mr. Hubby and proclaim that I’m all wined out, dined out and until my memories of Sicily fade, I don’t want to go out to dinner or plan any vacations. I just want to be.
And cook at home, and be inspired by the beauty from which I have returned. And hence comes this pasta.
Think of it as Pasta alla vongole in drag! The classic pasta with clams and white wine made so much better with Italian sausage. Some vino (oh how I miss you my dear bottles of Campobello di Licata and why can I carry back only 2, dear TSA?!) and crusty bread and a nice robust insalata and dinner is served.
Mr. Hubby has been playing Paolo Conti on a loop to keep the ambience going.
Linguine Pasta with Spicy Italian Sausage & Clams
Preparation time: 30 minutes (not including time to soak clams)
Cooking time: 20 minutes
2-3 lbs Manila clams
water + 1-1/2 tbs cornmeal - for soaking clams to get rid of grit and sand
¾ lb spicy Italian sausage
1 medium yellow onion (to yield 1 cup, finely chopped or minced)
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp whole fennel seeds
1-1/4 cup dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio
½ cup packed fresh parsley leaves
4-5 thyme sprigs
1 punnet (16) cherry tomatoes not grape tomatoes, washed and drained
1 tsp pepperoncini or harissa paste
2 tbs tomato paste
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
¼ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
Extra olive oil for serving
1 lbs linguini pasta
1 tbs salt & water for cooking pasta
Clams: Soak the clams in plenty of water with cornmeal for at least 30 minutes and preferably 2 hours. Scrub and remove from water just before using.
Italian sausage:Remove from casings and shredded by hand.
Onions: Peel, discard ends and skin and finely chop or mince.
Garlic: Crush and finely chop
Parsley: Wash, finely chop and set aside.
Pasta water: Bring pasta water to a rolling boil with salt.
Heat a large 10-12” heavy bottom flat pan with olive oil on medium high heat until very hot but not fuming. Add the onions, garlic and thyme sprigs. Sauté for 5-7 minutes until softened. Add the shredded Italian sausage and continue to sauté until opaque.
Add the tomato paste and pepperoncini or harissa paste sauté for a few seconds to combine.
Add the white wine and bring to a simmer. In a single layer, arrange the clams in the pan and surround with tomatoes. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 7-8 minutes until the clams have opened and tomatoes are soft.
Just as soon as you begin cooking the clams, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook the pasta, stirring constantly for the first 5 minutes to prevent sticking. Drain and remove to a serving platter.
Once the clams have opened, zest the lemon with a microplane zester directly into the sauce and squeeze the juice of ½ lemon (avoid seeds). Top with parsley, salt and pepper.
Stir and taste and adjust seasonings.
Empty the sauce over the platted pasta. Serve onto individual plates and finish with lashings of good quality olive oil