I have only been to Europe once. It was back in 2008 when I had an unexpected two weeks off of work (that whole nannying thing can be quite unpredictable at times) and nothing to do. It was at a time in my life where I had two thousand dollars and nothing to spend it on, because everything was still being taken care of for me by the family I was working for. Ah, to be 23 again. Anyway – I made a fairly last minute plan to see England and Paris. At that time – oh so long ago - I was single and young and I had a bunch of very fun British boys in my life who were willing to let an American girl come and stay with them for a couple of weeks. Not too shabby, eh? I had worked with them teaching skiing in Vermont, drinking way too many Goombay Smashes after work and walking in blizzards to eat as much sushi as we possibly could. I was introduced to cheese on toast (um, its just an open faced grilled cheese...but somehow, better) and cricket and just how charming (and sarcastic) British boys could be. When they went back across the pond we all kept in touch. It now feels like a lifetime ago, a lot happens in seven years, but I still think back on those days with so many smiles.
That was a very long backstory to just say this: I ate all the escargot. ALL of them. For two weeks that was pretty much my food of choice. That, and some white wine and lots of bread. I first had escargot on my thirteenth birthday, while out to a “fancy” dinner with my family. I totally Julia Roberts-ed it the first time and sent a shell flying under the chair of the old man sitting next to me. Slippery little suckers. After I picked the shell up off of the floor, and gave a very red faced apology, I tried my first snail. I loved it from the first bite – the garlic and shallots, the herbs and the butter. That officially started my love affair with snails. I love them because they remind me of shellfish.
And now its time for me to admit something that I have yet to talk about here on Bread+Barrow...
I am allergic to shellfish.
Yup, you read that right. The girl who writes a coastal based food blog can't eat crustaceans. Growing up on Cape Cod, we had shellfish, or some kind of seafood, on a regular basis. I was eating lobster and steamers before I could hold a bottle. Some of my first memories are of sucking on lobster legs and dipping my whole fist in to a bowl of warm butter to slather a clam belly. I LOVED it. For my birthday every year I would request “wobster” (I had a hard time with l's) and my parents would steam up a few for the family. In all of the photos my mouth and neck were red and splotchy, my eyes watering and itchy, but I ate it all with a smile on my face. My mom thought I was allergic to the butter...(and let me just say, while the shellfish allergy sucks big time, I thank God it's not the butter!) but as she did a little more research, she noticed that it was only when I was eating shellfish that I would have this horrendous rash. We saw an allergist, and did some tests, and lo and behold I have a pretty severe shellfish allergy. As I grew, my asthma also developed stronger and soon turned the shellfish allergy in to a dangerous anaphylactic reaction. So, sadly, I must avoid eating the shelled creatures.
But that doesn't mean I can't cook them. And that certainly doesn't mean I can't eat snails! So when Sofi from the fabulous South End shop Olives and Grace (if you are from the Boston area – don't miss this spot – it is gorgeous - and full of amazingly unique items) gave me a bag of the most beautiful black cuttlefish ink spaccatelli from the NYC based Sfoglini pasta shop, I immediately thought – snails! And even more than snails – periwinkles. What better to pair with a pasta from the sea than sea creatures?! And why not bring those delicious flavors of escargot into this pasta.
I grabbed an empty glass jar and headed to the sea. Here in New England, periwinkles are considered an invasive species, so we are basically allowed to pluck as many as we want from the ocean. I felt a bit like a witch, wading in the cold water with my glass jar, picking the little slugs from their seaweed covered rocks to bring home and boil up. It did not take me very long to gather about 60 snails – all that I needed for this particular dish. I grabbed some sugar kelp I saw floating near by and took my loot home.
If you live in an area where periwinkles and seaweed are plentiful be sure to look in to your harvesting laws in your particular state – they usually aren't very strict for this sort of harvesting - but its important to know the rules about foraging. According to Edible Cape Cod “...your town’s Department of natural resources will have information about shellfish closures due to bacterial or other health concerns. An official with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said he’d never heard of anyone getting sick from eating a periwinkle and that they are less likely to accumulate toxins in their bodies than filter-feeding bivalves like mussels. you do not need a permit to harvest periwinkles.”
Since my first encounter with escargot, I have had a few different variations – with brie cheese, with blue cheese, with pesto, with parsley – all of them delicious. For this particular recipe, I decided on sauteing the periwinkles with some garlic and shallots and lots of butter – the classic way. I added just a bit of gorgonzola cheese, for creaminess and a bit of tang. As far as this dish goes, you would probably expect the periwinkles to be the star of the show, but oh no sir. Let me tell you, this pasta stole the spot light. It is SO GOOD. Its a perfect slate gray when dry, but once you plunge it into the boiling water it turns so deep it looks like onyx. It is chewy with the perfect bite and the roll of the spaccatelli holds all of the flavors perfectly.
In keeping with the theme of this dish, I thought that drying some of the sugar kelp (with the advice of my life-line, Patrick the chef) to add to the boiling water for the pasta might infuse some hints of the ocean. I found out that you definitely shouldn't boil pasta in sea water, which is good to know. Cause I definitely would have. The sugar kelp I used filled my kitchen with the smells of the ocean, the steam swirling off the pot like sea mist. I now want to boil everything with seaweed.
While I was not quite sure how this dish was going to turn out, I was so pleasantly surprised. I wanted to marry the sea and the spring on one plate, and I believe that this dish did that. The strong flavors of the sea are brought together with the seaweed boiled pasta and the briny periwinkles while spring notes sing through with the bite of the rapini, the earthy creaminess of the gorgonzola and the fresh citrus notes in the lemon thyme. I loved the colors of this dish - the dark pasta and periwinkles spoke to the long winter we had, while the bright greens show the hope of spring. The ocean is beginning to provide again, spring is starting to bloom.
• cuttlefish ink spaccatelli with periwinkles and rapine •
• for the pasta •
• 1 half package of Sfoglini's cuttlefish ink spaccatelli
• dried seaweed – preferably sugar kelp or dulse – two to three large pieces
• drizzle of olive oil
Place water in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat.
Once boiling, add the seaweed and pasta
Boil for seven to eight minutes or unitl pasta is al dente
Strain and rinse quickly with cool running water
Remove seaweed and discard
Set pasta aside, drizzled with a bit of olive oil to keep from sticking
If you can' t find fresh seaweed you can always use packaged seaweed usually found in supermarkets – but of course if neither of these options are availible to you, you can omit the seaweed all together. Just add a bit of salt!
• for the periwinkles •
• eight cups of water
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• about 60 periwinkles
Bring water and salt to boil over medium high heat.
Rinse periwinkles thoroughly in fresh cold water.
Once water is boiling, add periwinkles. Boil for seven minutes.
Drain and rinse cooked periwinkles in cold running water.
Once the periwinkles are cool enough to handle, the tedious part beings. Start by removing the operculum, or little “trap door” - which resembles mica – that the periwinkle uses to shut itself in its shell. Remove the meat of the snail with a toothpick or tweezers, pulling at the exposed end.
Of course I don't expect you all to run to the beach (...or drive...or fly...) but you can find periwinkles in some supermarkets, or you can order land snails here or here. They are a lot bigger so you would probably only need a dozen of them and they would work beautifully!
• for the periwinkle sauce •
• ½ stick butter
• 1 shallot, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• ¼ cup chopped spring onion
• ½ cup chopped crimini mushrooms
• ½ cup chopped shitake mushrooms
• 2 cups boiled and shelled periwinkles
• ¼ cup gorgonzola cheese
• 1 teaspoon lemon thyme
• bunch of coarsely chopped rapini
• salt and pepper to taste
In a large cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.
Add the shallot, garlic and spring onion and cook until shimmering.
Add the mushrooms and periwinkles and saute.
Once mushrooms are browned, add the gorgonzola and stir to incorporate throughout.
Add the rapini and lemon thyme, and toss a couple of times to get it sufficiently wilted.
When you think the rapini is wilted to your liking, remove the skillet from the heat. Add the pasta to the periwinkle mixture and toss to coat the pasta. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve hot, and garnish with an extra crumble of gorgonzola and lemon thyme.
listening to: April in Paris by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald