WINTER CELEBRATION BOWL

LOBSTER WITH CLAMS, KLUSKI, AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS

by Sanford D’Amato, Photos by Dominic Perri

2017_Nov15_EdiblePioneerValley_4242.jpg

With the holidays on the horizon, my food radar usually goes into celebratory mode. The obvious starting point of a proper celebration is the ubiquitous sparkling wine cork flying across the room followed by a Vesuvius-level flow of effervescence exploding out of the bottle. Whether it’s a $5 Cava or a $300 vintage Champagne, bubbles have come to signify that magic moment. From a family’s Thanksgiving toast to the first kiss of the New Year, everyone is seemingly absolved of past indiscretions, replaced with a clean slate of optimism.

All of these good feelings must be lavishly fed and nothing screams “splurge” like caviar and lobster. Caviar is a bit more esoteric, having almost as many detractors as fans. But for across-the-board extravagance, lobster is a sure bet.

When I was growing up in Wisconsin in the late 1950s, we were not a lobster-consuming family for good reason—it was to hard find lobster. The only ones I knew of were lounging about in the special aquariums of high-end city restaurants. And even if we found one at a market and could pay the hefty tariff, there was the quandary of how to cook it.

So the only real option to have lobster for a celebration was to visit one of the elite restaurants. Since anything on the menu that ended in “MKT PRICE” was not happening for our family, I would live vicariously through the impeccably dressed couple on the other side of the dining room, their eyes slightly rolling back in their heads as they regally bathed shimmering chunks of lobster in a silver cauldron of heated butter. It was an instant imprint.

My first solo lobster was at my high school senior prom. I ushered my date from my aunt’s borrowed Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser and we ceremoniously walked through the A-frame door of Giles’ Leilani, the ultimate in ’60s Polynesian-Tiki chic. We started with two virgin Piña Coladas, ceremoniously served in hollowed-out coconuts, holding de rigueur umbrellas that shielded them from any spontaneous tropical downpours. As I peeked around the enormous menu at my date, I already knew what I was having: the go-for-broke MKT lobster—which I just knew would score big points with her. After two months of meticulous planning, it turned out she didn’t eat shellfish! Unprepared but undeterred, I decided, I’m going solo!

I started to question my super-cool move when the waiter encased me in a billowing garbage-bag-sized bib. Feeling less than regal by the time the lobster arrived, it only got worse as I tried to dismantle the crustacean, looking like one of the apes flailing around the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The final humiliation was when the waiter, without saying a word, took the lobster back to the kitchen to have the shells cracked so I wouldn’t starve.

After many years of training and firsthand experience, I now feel at one with the lobster. While summer lobsters, especially soft-shells, are all silky and tender and preferred by many, I personally favor the hard-shell winter lobsters. They have a denser texture that eats with a slight snap like a good, natural-cased hot dog. I join them with littleneck clams, Polish egg noodles, and market-fresh Pioneer Valley Brussels sprouts and an assertively spiced, sherry-kissed white wine tomato clam essence. It’s a decadent, easy-to-eat winter showstopper that is worthy of any celebration. Best of all, no bibs are required.

LOBSTER WITH CLAMS, KLUSKI, AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Serves 4

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
2 (2-pound) Maine lobsters, steamed for 5 minutes, tail, claw, and knuckle meat removed from shells, tails cut in half lengthwise, meat and shells reserved separately
3 tablespoons chopped shallots (divided)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1½ teaspoon ground fennel
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
2 bay leaves
¾ cup dry sherry
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups unsalted chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8–10 fresh Brussels sprouts, cleaned, cores carefully removed to free individual leaves (need about 2 cups leaves)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
24 Manila clams or cockles, cleaned
3 ounces dry kluski (Polish egg noodles), cooked al dente in boiling salted water, then cooled (need 2 cups cooked)

Place a sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and, when oil is hot, add the lobster shells and sauté, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the shallots and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the tomato paste, smoked paprika, fennel, cumin, Aleppo pepper, and bay leaves and sauté, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the sherry and white wine, bring up to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the stock, bring up to a simmer, and simmer for 20 minutes until the mixture is reduced by one-third (you’ll need 2½ cups liquid after straining).

When the lobster stock is strained and ready, place a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Place the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in pan, season the lobster pieces lightly with salt and pepper and place in the pan. Sauté the lobster meat about 20 seconds per side, then remove to a plate. Season the sprout leaves very lightly with salt and pepper. Toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon of shallots. Add to the pan and sauté just to slightly wilt, about 30 seconds. Add the vinegar, toss, and remove sprouts to a plate.

Add clams to the pan along with 1 cup of the strained lobster stock. Cover, bring up to a simmer and cook until clams open. Remove the clams and divide between 4 bowls. Add the remaining lobster stock, noodles, and lobster meat to the pan. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and just bring back to a simmer.

Immediately remove the lobster meat and divide it between the 4 bowls with the clams (½ tail, 1 claw, and some knuckle meat). Divide the noodles and broth between the bowls and garnish with Brussels sprout leaves. Serve hot.

Farm Lunch Minestrone

 Photo by Tim Wilcox

Photo by Tim Wilcox

Serves 4–6 hungry farmers as a main meal.

11:00 Put ½ pound brown lentils in a small pot and cover with 2 inches water. Add 1½ teaspoons salt and 2–3 bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer.

11:05 Heat a large pot of water for pasta.

11:10 Make a battuto: Finely dice 1 medium onion, 1 carrot, 4 cloves of garlic, and 1 stalk of celery (if you’ve got it) or some parsley. Sauté gently in a capacious skillet in olive oil over medium heat. (If you’re not serving vegetarians, add 2 ounces of diced bacon or uncased sweet Italian sausage to this mixture.)

11:30 When everything is nice and rosy, add 1 can of San Marzano tomatoes or 1 quart of homemade tomato preserves. By this point, your pasta water should be boiling, so you might as well salt it (2 tablespoons) and get the pasta cooking. I like to use ditalini or other small shapes. Don’t forget to check on the lentils to make sure they are actually cooking and have plenty of water.

11:35 Wash 2 bunches of Tuscan kale or another green. Kale, chard, or spinach work equally well, but not broccoli rabe or mustard greens. Strip out the tough center rib and coarsely chop the kale. Add it to the tomato sauce, but don’t overcook the pasta, which should be done by now. Strain it into a colander when it’s al dente, then return to the pot you cooked it in and drizzle with a little oil (2–3 tablespoons) to keep pasta from sticking. 

11:50 By this point, the lentils should be most of the way there. Taste them to make sure. There should be several cups of rich broth left in the lentil pot. Add the lentils and broth to the tomatoes and check for flavor. It should taste salty. If it doesn’t, add salt.

11:55 Heat 1 stick of butter in a small saucepan and add 1 bunch of chopped fresh sage. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes to infuse. It’s OK if it browns a little, but don’t burn it. Meanwhile, set the table, make a pot of coffee, and get the parmesan out of the fridge. If you find any bread in the house, you can put that out, too.

11:59 Add the kale, lentil, and tomato mixture to the pasta in the pasta pot. Pour in the butter, taking care not to add the sage leaves. I find the sage itself to be quite bitter, but the aroma to be intoxicating. The mixture should be fairly brothy but not soupy. 

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