|Photo credit: Torito Restaurant|
And so last night I found myself walking along College at roughly 7:30pm, black boots and gray denim, headed to a Spanish tapas bar in Kensington Market. Items that appeared in front of me included: Serrano ham and a Spanish tortilla, at my Spanish dining companion's insistence -- "the way to judge a tapas bar is by its ham and tortilla," he informed me -- and these interesting pickled red grapes that burst so strongly with vinegar. I'd never had a Spanish tortilla, to be honest, but it was delicious. The basic concept calls for olive oil-fried potatoes and onions mixed with a little egg. It's similar to other potato concoctions (latkes come to mind), but, in my humble opinion, better. This one was slightly dry, but the seasoning was right on. I should mention that improper or insufficient seasoning is a common complaint of mine when it comes to dining out, so it's always reassuring when a chef somehow gets it on the nose. The ham was similarly delicious, its buttery texture a perfect contrast to the grapes, skins scrunched like those of prunes.
I chose tiny, red piquillo peppers stuffed with salted cod and olive tapenade, which were extremely salty but in that aged, great way, and packed with flavour. The cod was flaky, moist, and done perfectly. I generally don't expect others to get behind my dining choices, seeing as nobody has a Salt Tooth to match mine (with the possible exception of the late food writer, Laurie Colwin), but I must say, you have to respect someone who can find it in them to eat salted cod with you.
The truly unexpected highlight of the night arrived in the form of a dark chocolate flan atop a puddle of cognac. I don't think there are words, but I'll find some anyway. I felt a little like Julie Powell, taking a bite and proclaiming, "Yum!" It definitely was. I'm not much of a dessert person (see: Salt Tooth), but the dark chocolate was so pronounced and the flan, so smooth. I thought I was stuffed completely until dessert came, and then just like magic, I found space. Ohhh chocolate!
I usually don't have high expectations of flan. It's good. Sometimes, it's even pretty great. But this dark chocolate flan was spec-ta-cu-lar.
Sometimes, when I'm fortunate enough to enjoy a meal like that, I hardly know how to follow it. Generally, I eat something simple -- perhaps a bowl of predictable lentil soup, or a sandwich, or a generous salad. Tonight, I made something slightly different, but easy. Eaten with a glass of Chianti and a green salad, it was the perfect Thursday evening accompaniment to all of the books I have stashed away. I can no longer hide my library obsession, so it appears.
Now: on to the clams. If you've never had clams, please try them. Yes, they do smell like seawater -- we are talking seafood, afterall. But no, they do not taste fishy. In fact, if you're partial to any other canned fish/seafood, you will probably like these very inoffensive gems very much.
Spaghetti with Clam & Herb Sauce
Adapted from Sarah at Coffee Beans & Curry Leaves
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, minced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 tbsp dried chili flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 5oz can baby clams + juice
1/2 cup, packed, finely chopped parsley
Splash of white wine (optional)
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil over medium heat and add shallots. Cook until slightly soft and tender, about three minutes. Add garlic and chili flakes. When fragrant, pour in reserved clam juice and wait until reduced and slightly thickened, about 8-10 minutes. At this point, add the clams, oregano, parsley and splash of white wine (if using), stirring to combine. Add a pinch of black pepper and about 1/8 tsp sea salt to start with. Let simmer for an additional five minutes, until the clams have been warmed through, the wine has evaporated and the parsley has wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve atop a bed of spaghetti, garnished with plenty of parmesan.
*A note about cooking the pasta: the clam sauce comes together pretty quickly; I began boiling water when I started on the recipe, which takes about twenty minutes total, and pulled out my pasta out of the water about five minutes prior to serving. Allow that to be your guide.