The fabulousness of my friend Miffy's Bejewelled Lamb has forced me to face an uncomfortable fact: I have been in a menu rut for a good, long time.
At first it was a groove, not a rut.
For some time now, I have been coasting along with a steady stream of reliable favorites. Initially, these dishes inspired closed eyes and long, slow "mmm"s and "ahhh"s - the kind that make all that time at the chopping board worth it. And when this chorus line is trotted out (yet again) for visitors, it still does.
(Pause. My arm is tired from patting myself on the back.)
But the cold, hard truth is that it's been many moons since anyone who actually lives here was genuinely excited by the call to dinner.
Time for a clean slate.
Yesterday I treated myself yesterday to two new magazines: Cuisine and Dish, both from New Zealand. Two lattes later, I had mapped out the following menu for the week:
Monday Spaghetti Alle Vongole
Tuesday Coq Au Riesling
Wednesday Pork & Prawn Dumplings with Choy Sum
Thursday Leftovers (sorry!)
Friday Snapper, Potato & Porcini Al Cartoccio
Weekend Steak & Kidney Pie In Guinness Gravy
We kicked things off last night with the spaghetti. It proved to be a very fresh start.
Light yet substantial, easy and delicious. Equally suited to a cold winter night in the Adelaide Hills or (she thought with a sigh) a chilly one on the Cape, wearing a sweater and jeans. The silky addition of a drizzle of olive oil at the end made all the difference.
Clams (pippis, cockles) are not available in Australia until spring time, so a quick substitution was in order and Spaghetti Alle Vongole became Spaghetti Alle Gaberro (prawns/shrimp).
If you are one of the lucky devils with access to clams, skip to the preparation for Spaghetti Alle Vongole further down.
Spaghetti Alle Gamberro
Adapted from Cuisine
400 g spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
500g/1 lb raw prawn/shrimp, peeled and deveined
2/3 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
extra olive oil for drizzling
Put pasta into well salted, boiling water and when it is 5 minutes away from al dente, start cooking the prawns. Drain the pasta when it is still al dente, as it will continue cooking in the white wine sauce.
Heat the oil in a large suacepan over a medium-low heat. Add the garlic and fry gently for 30 seconds, then add the chilies. Turn up the heat, add the prawns, stir once, add the wine and cook, stirring regularly and taking care not to over cook the prawns.
Add the parsley and stir, then add the pasta and stir some more until it is coated with the liquid. Divide among warm bowls and drizzle with olive oil.
Spaghetti Alle Vongole
Swap the prawns for 1 kg/2 lbs of clams, grab a pan with a tight fitting lid and do the following:
Put pasta into well salted, boiling water and when the pasta is 5 minutes away from al dente, start cooking the clams. Drain the pasta when it is still al dente, as it will continue cooking in the wine and clam liquor.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the garlic and fry gently for 30 seconds, then ad the chilies. Turn up the heat, add the clams, stir once, add the wine and put on the lid.
Cook, shaking the pan a few times, until you hear the clams popping open. Remove any that haven't opened. Add the parsley and stir, then add the pasta and stir to allow the pasta to soak up the clam liquor.
Add the parsley and stir, then add the pasta and stir some more, till it is coated in the liquid. Divide among warm bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with some good bread for sopping up the juices.