Monthly Archives: November 2014

CRANBERRY SAUCE BY A FOOD OBSESSION, THANKSGIVING STAPLE

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It’s the night before Thanksgiving, and all through the house…hopefully there is no chaos in your Thanksgiving Eve.  There was a time when this night was the best night to bar hop thru Manhattan or wherever you live but it’s settled into a night with the family and getting ready for Thursday’s onslaught of family, friends, and lots of foods.  Can you imagine a Thanksgiving Day table without turkey and it’s Cranberry Sauce?  If you don’t care for cranberry sauce this may be a good time to go back to the Candy Crush game you were just playing.  If you DO care for Cranberry Sauce you will fall into a few different camps…there’s the IT MUST BE FROM A CAN, because that’s the way it was and always should be.  Respect that people, do not ever get between a Thanksgiving diner and their heartfelt sentiments, ever.  No dissing the canned.  Then another camp is the I HATE IT..ok, we’ve already dealt with that group of malcontents.  Another camp is the SCREW TRADITION LET’S MIX IT UP…a colorful group, to be commended for free thinking and wild abandon…is that an ancho chile dusted pecan in that raw chop of cranberries, limes, oranges and honey?  Kudos to the free thinkers!  There’s the NO WHOLE BERRIES group, they can get vicious if a stray whole berry makes it’s way onto their plate.  Be vigilant.  And then there’s the WHOLE BERRY WITH SOME INTERESTING ADDITIONS WITHOUT TURNING THE WHOLE THING UPSIDE Group…I fall into that one.  Familiar enough to the canned, whole berries for a daring culinary adventure of sorts, and a few additions to just make you think you could maybe win on Chopped or TopChef.

Let’s make Cranberry Sauce with a hint of orange, spice, and Rosemary.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 12-ounce package of fresh Cranberries

1 sprig fresh Rosemary

1 tsp. finely grated orange zest

1/4 tsp. ground allspice.

Combine sugar and water and rosemary in a saucepan. Bring to  a boil then add cranberries, return to the  boil. Reduce the  heat and boil gently for 10 minutes  Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon and gently apply pressure to some of the berries to ensure their popping.cranbrys Remove from heat as the berries should have all popped and thickened the sauce.  This is not be as “jelled” as the canned stuff but will have some body to it.  Add the Allspice and the orange zest now and blend.  Cover this and let it sit for at least 1 hour.  Then empty it into a bowl, removing the rosemary sprig.  Cover and refrigerate and serve the next day.  Warm, Spicy, Bright.  It brings all the flavors together that match your turkey or even pork and chicken.

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I could eat this on it’s own, like a bowl of it…OK, i have a thing for anything cranberry.  I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!  Happy Cooking!!!

STUFFED MUSHROOMS PIZZAIOLA, MY MOM’S HOLIDAY STAPLE

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  I hope that lead picture draws you into this blogpost because not only is it a great dish for you to make, it means so much to me.  STUFFED MUSHROOMS PIZZAIOLA..let’s explore that…what makes it (Something) PIZZAIOLA?  The SAUCE.  Simple.  A blend of crushed Italian Plum Tomatoes, usually out of the can, preferably San Marzanos, then blended with OLIVE OIL, GARLIC, OREGANO, SALT, PEPPER.  That’s it. It’s used on Pizzas in Naples and paired up with other meats or poultry then baked, and that’s the sauce that makes these Stuffed Mushrooms Pizzaiola (meaning in the style of the Pizza Maker’s wife).  While the Pizzaiolo was making the pies, the wife who was the home cook was using the sauce in inventive ways.  Ok, that’s what I think happened so I am standing by that romantic explanation.  More importantly I want you do enjoy something that was a Holiday staple for my family at Thanksgiving and Christmas Day dinner year after year.  These are my mother’s Stuffed Holiday Mushrooms.  Only when making them last night did it occur to me that her recipe contained Pizzaiola sauce.  I love when that happens.  She was Napoletana, the sauce is Napoletana, stuffed vegetables are very Napoletana, it’s a dish that defines my family’s history.  AND it tastes awesome and that is why you want to make them.  Now is this exactly like my mother’s?  Let’s say 85%, I add some other techniques or steps to Mom’s standard Italian Fennel Sausage, pecorino, garlic, herb, and breadcrumb stuffing so this is MY VERSION of Mom’s recipe.  There’s enough of Mom’s recipe in here to make it mostly her’s, soeaster79momI don’t think she’ll be looking down from Heaven on my stove without smiling.  Miss you MOM!! That picture was taken by me Easter Sunday 1979 in our dining room..where all the Holiday Meals and Special occasions went down.  While cooking this last night my kitchen had every smell of the Holidays of my youth.  Happens everytime I make these Mushrooms for Thanksgiving.  Even if we dine elsewhere, I make a tray for home.  Try a Stuffed Mushroom slider sometime. Delicious!!  And the Pizzaiola sauce after baking is further seasoned by the mushrooms themselves and all the flavors in the stuffing.  Mom’s Thankgiving table was the stuff dreams were made of, at least to this kid..Stuffed Mushrooms, Stuffed Artichokes, Antipasto, her roasted red peppers (Holla!!),Finocchio on the table, nuts, dates, figs, fruit, Manicotti, Sausage and Meatballs, Turkey, Stuffing, Broccoli Rabe, “American” Broccoli, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Corn, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans Almondine, Cranberry Sauce..I’m not sure anymore if there was a salad…i’m thinking not…the dinner though would begin with chilled fruit cocktail in a stemed dish..This was as fancy as we got.  She even dressed her turkey, booties, fruits, garnishes, it was heaven.  Of course Italian Pastries but what everyone looked forward to were the pies…lots of them..apple, apple crumb, pumpkin, sweet potato, lemon merengue (my favorite), Cherry, Mince (no one at that one ),pecan, banana cream, chocolate pudding..you get the picture.  If you are at all in tune with food the heightened standard and diverse recipes and preparations during the Holidays is an excuse to do what you are really doing all year.  I love it and I hope you do to regardless of what holidays at year’s end you celebrate or do not.  It’s a time for entertaining.  My mom knew how to entertain, although, she wanted everything cleaned up too quickly…lol.  That tradition I do not perpetuate!  Relax, the mess will still be there tomorrow.  I’m not taking up precious social time to clean up..later for that!

Ready to cook?  I use regular button mushrooms for this..why you ask?  When there are beautiful huge stuffing mushrooms to be had?  Think of all that shows up at the holiday table, there’s usually a high variety of food, some of it very rich.  I’d rather serve a small bite than something that could be it’s own appetizer for a sit down dinner.  Think BIG picture, not just BIG food.

MAKES  50 MUSHROOMS

50 MUSHROOMS, STEMS GENTLY SEPARATED (finely dice the stems)

1 1/2 lbs. loose mix of hot and sweet ITALIAN PORK FENNEL SAUSAGE meat

(or just one type)

3 sliced cloves of garlic

1 large whole clove of GARLIC

Olive Oil

1 tsp. diced PANCETTA

1/4 cup RED WINE

1 tsp.Oregano

1/8 cup GRATED PECORINO ROMANO CHEESE

1/4 cup DICED LOW MOISTURE MOZZARELLA(not fresh made)

1/8 cup PLAIN ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS

1 ITALIAN ROLL, day old preferably..soaked in water, then squeeze out the water

KOSHER SALT

2 TBS. FINELY CHOPPED FRESH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

1 CAN (28 OZ) SAN MARZANO TOMATOES OR GOOD ITALIAN PLUM TOMATOES

1/2 TSP FENNEL SEED, SLIGHTLY BRUISED

BLACK PEPPER

Start by making the PIZZAIOLA SAUCE. Simple.  Crush the tomatoes with your hand or run thru the processor or a food mill.  I’m lazy.  I use my hands.  Less clutter and things to wash, but feel free to use whatever you are comfortable with.  Empty it into a mixing bowl.  Add 1 TBS. Olive Oil, I like the taste of Olive Oil, alot..so I like a good Extra Virgin in here.  Feel free to use what you like.  Add 1/2 tsp of Oregano that you RUBBED BETWEEN YOUR HANDS..key technique, you release the oils in the dried oregano..do not use fresh for this. Salt and Pepper to taste..Smash one whole clove of garlic.  Add that..Now blend the ingredients and set it aside.

mushroompizzaiola 007  How beautiful is that!!??  And btw, since this is not cooked before you add it to the mushrooms the type and quality of the tomato is very very important.  Sometimes you can help out not so good tomatoes by cooking them in a sauce.  Not so with this Pizzaiola method.  The bright fresh taste of the tomato is highlighted in this sauce.  No 1.99 tomatoes here, they should cost you at least $ 2.50 or more.  Make that mental note.

Now the stuffing…it’s a Red Wine Braised Italian Sausage stuffing with some additions.let’s have fun with this.  In a large heavy pan for caramelization! add a little olive oil.  Keep on medium heat and add the pancetta.  When that is somewhat clear and has a little color on it add the sausage.  Let it cook on one side for at least 8 minutes or until it’s browned, then chop it with a spatula and turn the sausage meat so it now will evenly brown.  Let this cook for 5 minutes. Now add the sliced garlic.  Resist the urge to season at this point because sausage meat is well seasoned and soon we will be adding cheese to this..more salt.  You can always add salt, you can’t ever remove it, so trust me here. Now add the chopped stems and blend in well.  After about 2 minutes add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes then add the wine.  What an aroma you are now getting!! mushroompizzaiola 002 Let this simmer for at least 10 minutes.  If the wine evaporates before that just add a touch more.  This process infuses that tasty sausage with the wine flavor.  It’s delicious!  OK, take a piece out for yourself…are you smiling???  After 10 minutes, remove from the heat and let this cool down for at least 20 minutes.  In a large mixing bowl, add the remaining oregano, the breadcrumbs,the bread, all the cheeses, the parsley, and mix together. Now add the sausage mushroom mix and 2 tbs of that Pizzaoila sauce you made…blend well.  It’s ready when it looks like this:mushroompizzaiola 003  Then gently stuff each mushroom cap with the stuffing, just to the top, if there’s left over just add a little more to some.mushroompizzaiola 005  Place them into a baking/roasting pan that you’ve drizzled with some olive oil.  Next step…pre heat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Drizzle the Pizzaiola sauce around and over the mushrooms, another drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of some grated Pecorino Romano.mushroompizzaiola 010  You really have to be getting excited now.  Please say you are!!  Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.  At the 10 minute mark, rotate the pan.  Why?  I believe most ovens have hot spots so this just helps with an even cooking of the pan.  They are done when the mushrooms are soft.  Let them sit for about  5 minutes before serving and these reheat REAL well.  Here’s the finished product:

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A wonderful starter to a big Holiday meal, or a side, or , away from the Holidays make this and serve with pasta..the sauce needs good bread for dipping or wonderful on pasta.

 

 

 

 

 

A BASIC MEATLOAF RECIPE WITH AMAZING FLAVOR

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Meatloaf has a love/hate relationship with many.  I find to many haytas and I know Haytas gotta hate but I’m going to try and change that.  Those same types generally love burgers and meatballs so, really, it’s not much of a stretch to jump to meatloafing from there.  Want to try this recipe out?  Good..and while I’m at it..this is not MY only meatloaf recipe.  Meatloaf is a “stretch” recipe..it allows the cook to use bits and pieces of what’s ever leftover or some less expensive ground meat (not so less expensive anymore) and stretch it into a filling tasty (TASTY I SAID!) meal.  Now the meatloaves I’ve not been to happy with simply are missing lots of ingredients.  For some reason this dish benefits from the use of many different condiments, vegetables and meats along with spices and aromatics to bring it to the table.  As with much of my cooking it’s past experience from where I start my constructing my own version and this has it’s roots in my Mom’s meatloaf of this type.  She made a few different ones, even the Polpettone (the Italian meatloaf) but this was her typical “American” one.  Ketchup, Mustard, Bacon, Onions, Worchestershire Sauce.  They turned it into something special.  Lots of Shredded cheddar and pecorino too.  Ok, Pecorino, NOT at all American, but work with me here, it becomes a flavor carrier.  That’s what you need.  Too many meatloaves are 3 or 4 ingredient ones with nothing to remember each bite by.  I need memorable.  I need flavors that intensify so the next day I can make a cold Meatloaf sandwich with or without Ketchup or BBQ Sauce. Up to you. Bacon is integral to this on the inside and the outside.  Like Meatloaf’s refined French cousin, the Terrine, larding with bacon (wrapping it) is beneficial in terms of moisture and flavor.  And who doesn’t like bacon????  OK, I know some of you don’t, you’ll just have to sit this one out.

 

SERVES: 6               TIME: 1 .75 hours

1 1/2 mixed ground BEEF, PORK, VEAL  (or if you prefer just Beef, use Chuck or up to 85% lean ground beef. Anything leaner the loaf is dry.)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

2 beaten eggs

1/8 cup rolled oats

3 torn slices of bread, white or whole wheat, soaked in a little milk, then gently squeeze the milk out

1 1/2 tbs. Worchestershire Sauce

1/8 cup Ketchup

2 tbs. Mustard, truthfully, I like Yellow for this, feel free to use Brown, Dijon is not the right family for this relative. Yes, it’s mustard and I love it, but not in this particular meatloaf.

1 tsp. Sriracha or Tabasco

2 tbs. chopped fresh thyme

1 fine diced onion, SAUTEED till soft with 4 chopped strips of Bacon (smoked USA style).  When the onions and bacon are done, takes about 15 minutes, remove from the flame and let rest for 10 minutes.

2 tsps. grated Pecorino Romano

1/8 cup shredded SHARP Yellow Cheddar cheese

6 additional strips of raw bacon

a glaze made out of 1/3 cup Ketchup, 2 tbs. mustard, 1 tbs. Maple Syrup (the real stuff, not Log Cabin)

1 tsp. Sriracha or Hot Sauce

Mix all the ingredients into a bowl except the bacon strips and glaze.  Blend Well.  Lightly grease a loaf pan and press the mix into the loaf.  Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the loaf pan on a sturdy baking sheet.  Coat the top with a layer of the glaze.  Top that with the bacon strips.  Bake for at least 45 minutes.  Insert a knife blade into the center, if it comes out clean you are done, if not, cook an additional 10-15 minutes.  LET THE MEATLOAF REST FOR AT LEAST 15 MINUTES AFTER IT’S COME OUT OF THE OVEN.  Then slice and serve with some of that glaze over the top.  TRY IT YOU’LL LIKE IT!!  only you will not need any Alka Seltzer after eating this.  Notice not much salt in the recipe..well there is, in the ketchup, Worchestershire, Mustard, cheese. So do not over salt this.

 

MORE MEATBALL MADNESS..VEAL AND LEMON POLPETTINE WITH GRAPE TOMATOES

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If you plan on coming on this culinary ride with me just be warned, I love meatballs in every shape, size, meats or other ingredients, any cuisine, but of course I’m going to always fall back onto my Italian roots.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs open your mind to the reality of the Italian meatball, it’s not one type or recipe.  Most likely when you hear the word you are seeing the Sunday Sauce type served up with pasta.  Very delicious, everyone loves them.  However there’s a bunch of regional varieties that are sure to become a welcome addition to your recipe file.  Meatballs are served as their own main course, along with vegetables and potatoes.  In Italy the pasta will always come as a PRIMO and be a course before the SECONDO, or second course.  This recipe is a mix of different types of this POLPETTINE which is made delicious with the addition of ground Mortadella and lemon and it’s more of an Italian Salisbury steak, a patted down small oval rather than a ball.  Don’t be confused my friend, it’s all good.  Very good!  Years ago I had a similar dish which I was told was from the Abruzzo , a region in Central Italy.  I’ve also heard that this type might be found in Sicily OR Tuscany. Either way it’s moist, full of flavor and very very satisfying.  Ready to cook?  I am.  Let’s GO!!

SERVES:  4-5                                    TIME: 1 HOUR

1 LB. GROUND  VEAL

1/4 LB. FINELY CHOPPED MORTADELLA

1 LARGE BEATEN EGG

1 MINCED CLOVE OF GARLIC

4 SLICES OF GOOD WHITE BREAD OR 1/2 CUP STALE CRUST REMOVED ITALIAN BREAD, SOAKED IN MILK, THEN  SQUEEZE  THE MILK OUT.

1/2 CUP PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO

1 TSP. LEMON ZEST

JUICE OF ONE LEMON

2 TBS. OF CHOPPED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

SALT, FRESH GROUND PEPPER

PINCH OF GROUND NUTMEG

OLIVE OIL

sifted FLOUR (about 3 tbs)

1 PT. SLICED CHERRY OR GRAPE TOMATOES

3 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

JUICE OF 2 LEMONS

1 TBS. SALT CURED CAPERS

2 TBS. VERMOUTH

SALT, PEPPER

3 sprigs FRESH OREGANO

ADD THE CHEESE, GARLIC, PEPPER, NUTMEG, ABOUT 1/4 TSP. SALT, LEMON ZEST AND JUICE ALL WITH THE EGG. Then using your hands mix the bread in followed by the ground mortadella and ground veal.  Continue to mix until it’s all well blended.  Form into about 8-10 patties no more than 2 1/2 inches long.  Dredge on all sides in unseasoned unbleached flour. Let sit for a moment.  In a large skillet heat about 1 1/2 tbs. olive oil and gently brown the POLPETTINE, about 5 minutes per side.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Don’t crowd the pan and don’t rush this!! Have a glass of Vermouth for yourself, just sayin. Relax. Cooking is fun.  You should have fun.  I want you to have fun!  I’m having fun so you should too!  Remove the polpettone to a platter and cover with foil.  Add a little more olive oil to the pan and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAadd the garlic and when they are just above golden, like in 2 minutes then add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil then reduce for 3 minutes.  Now add the polpettine back into the pan and make sure the sauce has covered all sides of meat. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA For whatever reason I didn’t take a pic of the polpettone in the pan, but  let this cook for at least 8 minutes.  Now add the juice of 2 lemons and the capers.  Check for seasoning, adjust if possible.  Let this cook now on low until the juice is reduced by 1/2.  Then you are done!  Garnish the platter with fresh oregano.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Of course I’m thinking I”m the pro food stylist for this photo shoot (lol..hardly any of that..I just had radicchio in the fridge so it became a bed for the polpettone.  Arrange on a plate and coat the polpettone with tomatoes and garlic, there should not be a ton of sauce..but it’s deliciously concentrated. The egg, cheese, and the soaked bread plus the mortadella add moisture to the patties and they do not dry out.  Wanna see inside of one?? Ok. Here is it—>OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Shoe String or Thin Cut French fries and a plate of sauteed greens goes great with this dish.  A crisp white wine, or sparkling water with lemon are a great accompaniment for the Polpettine.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Doesn’t that look good?? Believe me yet about the world of meatballs?  And they are NOT all Italian either!  More to come…

Happy Cooking for now and enjoy the Lemon Veal Polpettine!  I love when you are cooking with me!!

 

 

 

 

BAKED CLAMS AND PASTA…AN ELEGANT DISH WITH HUMBLE INGREDIENTS

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  I’m very excited to share my recipe for BAKED CLAMS OREGANATO with you as it’s really one of my favorite dishes to cook AND eat.  Fresh Clams, their essence giving a base to some pasta, the crunch and aromatic flavor of the breadcrumb mixture, the salty brine of the clam meat..a little lemon and parsley, some spice from Peperoncino..this is a dish you will want to make AND eat over and over again.  First though you must sit through my usual lecture, please sit down, CLASS is in session.  Overkill.  Death to any dish, especially a delicate flavored seafood that often gets loaded down with too many breadcrumbs with too much of everything in that mix.  Sometimes the clams are chopped for Oreganato, not for me.  I want to see that clam, it’s a little jewel of seafood sitting in it’s own serving piece.  Fresh clams are key to this dish.  I am so fortunate to live in a CLAM region as the Little Neck is harvested right here at the Jersey shore among other wonderful clam beds along the coast.  Use nothing bigger than a LITTLE NECK for this dish, it’s the perfect bite size and they are so sweet.

SERVES: 4-5                                   TIME: 1 HOUR

36 SCRUBBED AND RINSED FRESH LITTLE NECK CLAMS

1 CUP TOASTED PLAIN BREAD CRUMBS (HEAT THE CRUMBS IN A DRY NON STICK PAN ON MEDIUM AND GENTLY SHAKE THEM BACK AND FORTH UNTIL YOU SEE THEM START TO TURN COLOR. AS SOON AS THIS HAS HAPPENED TO MOST OF THE PAN AS YOU KEEP SHAKING REMOVE IMMEDIATELY FROM THE HEAT)

1/8 CUP GRATED PECORINO ROMANO OR PARMIGIANO REGGIANO

3 TABLESPOONS FINELY CHOPPED ITALIAN FLAT LEAVE PARSLEY

1 TSP. DRIED OREGANO THAT YOU RUBBED BETWEEN YOUR HANDS (RELEASES THE OILS IN THE LEAVES)

3 FINELY MINCED CLOVES OF GARLIC

1 1/2 TBS. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

JUICE OF ONE LEMON

3 TBS. WHITE WINE

PINCH OF PEPERONCINO

FOR THE PASTA

1 LB. SPAGHETTI, OR BUCATINI OR PERCIATELLI, COOKED TILL AL DENTE ACCORDING TO THE PACKAGE DIRECTIONS

4 TBS. OLIVE OIL

EXTRA PEPERONCINO AND PARSLEY

PINCH OF SALT (PREFERABLY SEA SALT)

Let’s start cooking!  No Baked Clam dish starts without clamsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA. In a dutch oven add the wine and the cleaned clams. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer, cover tightly and let them steam for 5 minutes or less, just until they are open.  Remove the clam with a slotted spoon to a platter and pry off the top shells.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Reserve all the liquid that the clams gave up to that steaming pot.  Strain that liquid through a sieve and reserve.  Add a little olive oil to the pan and 1/3 of the garlic, pinch of peperoncino and saute’ the garlic for no more that 2 minutes, Then add the reserved liquid and let this reduce on simmer for about 10 minutes.  While this is happening in a bowl add 2tbs. of olive oil, the breadcrumbs, the cheese, parsley, garlic, oregano, 1/2 the lemon juice and mix well until all are loosely combined.  Place a bit , maybe a tsp. full of the mixture on top of each clam which you have line up on a baking sheet.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  When they are all filled reserve some of those crumbs, you should have a small amount left.  Drizzle a little White wine and olive oil over the clams.  Pre heat your broiler and when it’s reached proper temperature, then place the sheet into the broiler at least 4 inches from the heating element or flame. DON’T MOVE!! Your clams will go from not ready to ready REALLY quickly, like in 2 minutes or less.  The clam is partially cooked so don’t fret, and you’ve already toasted the breadcrumbs so 2 minutes should brown them nicely.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

While this was all happening you should have been cooking the pasta, just till al dente.  Then drain and add to the pot with the reduced clam liquid.  Drizzle with olive oil then toss well.  Then toss the pasta with the remaining breadcrumb mixture.  YEAH!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Does that not look amazing?  Simple.  Serve the pasta along with the clams in another platter.  Or the pasta on a platter surrounded by the clams, whatever, it’s all going to be spectacular but WAIT…garnish the clams and pasta with more Italian flat leaf parsley, peperoncino and sprinkle that lemon juice all over the top of everything.  So important not to only use lemon in the mix, but to finish the dish with the lemon, and ok, a little more extra virgin olive oil. Those fresh tastes will hit your mouth and open it up, enhancing all the subsequent flavors you are eating.  Amazing.

Please pass the San Pellegrino, Sparkling please..or the White Wine or even a beer!

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