Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Doesn’t Everybody Cook This Way?

In honor of National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day, I thought I’d share this dish. Not only did it turn out to be tasty bowl of comfort food, it reminded me of one of the things I like most about cooking: Puttering with what’s on hand.

Sure, I ooh and ahh over dishes I spot on other blogs as much as the next cook. I wouldn’t want to count how many recipes I’ve clipped, or copied and pasted. I confess I’ve never actually prepared the overwhelming majority of them – although they often serve as inspiration when I’m trying to figure out what to do with a specific ingredient, or feel my well of culinary creativity has run dry.

But sometimes the best inspiration comes from simply looking inside my fridge . . . surveying my pantry . . . and pondering my typically overzealous farmers market purchases.

The concoctions I’ve come up with have been peculiar on occasion. A few so disappointing I either disposed of them immediately or let their leftovers languish until I had to throw them out, refrigerator container and all. But one of the bonuses of cooking for oneself is playing around in the kitchen unfettered. I’m not chained to recipes. I have no need to impress anyone. No one else’s palates to please, or food prejudices to work around. And I can make things as complex, or as simple, as I choose.

This time I went simple. I fried a couple slices of bacon. Threw some diced garlic and chopped fennel into its renderings. Added in some fresh sage, then – why not? – tossed some whole wheat penne and white wine into the skillet to see if I could adapt that risotto-like first stage to pasta. When the pasta began to soften, I added some water and covered with a lid. Checked back periodically to add liquid and check on the doneness of the penne. When it was close and had absorbed most of the liquid, I added more sage, a handful of mushrooms, some shreds of butternut squash cut with a vegetable peeler, (which I knew would cook in a flash), fresh clams, and more white wine.

I pulled the clams as each opened, not wanting to overcook those precious puppies. Glad to find only one would not (a sure sign to discard), I returned the rest to the skillet for a moment to rewarm. I turned out my veggie-pasta-clam mélange into a bowl, then – because it pleased my whim – topped with some torn prosciutto, cubed parmesan, cherry tomatoes, and fennel fronds.

All in all, a successful experiment. With some warm bread and a glass of wine, that pasta dish was just what I wanted to tuck into in front of some food television as I nursed a lingering cold and kept an ear cocked for anyone scratching at the door.

Sadly, Scout has not returned, nor have my efforts posting on Craigslist, calling animal shelters, etc. turned up anything. It’s hard to be optimistic, especially as days pass and with our cold, rainy, windy, dismal weather. I thank my many friends for opening your hearts to me and checking back for news. After 14 years, he may have used up all nine of his lives patrolling the neighborhood, making friends with kids and old people alike, and adventuring in his own fashion (with more dire consequences than my simple cooking experiments).

Scout came into my life, tiny and not yet weaned, when someone dropped him off at a state park where one of my best friends worked. (why people think this is a good idea, I do not know). Della took in many strays herself and was relentless in finding homes for more. I have now been missing her for the better part of a decade. In the event Scout turns up, I will hale his return loud and wide.

Meanwhile, I am doing my best to envision Scout and Della reunited somewhere they are both pain-free and enjoying themselves as the perennial teenagers they always were in their own minds. Scout, you’re on your own when Della cranks up her 80s head-banger rock :) But you’ll also find Della is a cat whisperer who will protect you like no other tiger mom who never had kids of her own.


Jenny said...

Comfort food is good during those times you need comfort. Your Scout is in my prayers. The reality? He's less domesticated than we realize and my hope is he's in a safe, warm place... either here on this planet or beyond. Try to find comfort in all that you gave him. And I believe if he did exist this earth, then perhaps he left a space for another to be saved.... when it's time. Take care Eggy. You're not alone.

moi said...

I can't say it any better than Boxer just did. We're thinking of ya, Miss Eggy, and of Mr. Scout.

When S.B. is out of town on a long project, this is how I cook. I love to eat, I love to cook, but I HATE grocery shopping, so when it's just me, I'll do everything in my power to put off going to the store for as long as possible. Which has resulted in some pretty interesting meals. Yogurt with wasabi paste on Ritz crackers, hummus in tortillas, mole sauce on spaghetti. The problem is, one can only go so long without fresh fruits and vegetables, so about the longest I can get away with this is three days.

Anonymous said...

So you just have clams kicking around in your fridge that you have to use or lose? Bwahaha I like a good clams and pata dish though. And you know cats, they live by their own rules. I wouldn't be surprised if he turns back up.


Sharon Rudd said...

Boxer, well said. Thank you.

Moi, indeed! I share your inclination toward grocery store avoidance! I can work up interest in shopping at farmers markets (or the fishmonger's place where I picked up these clams), but box grocery stores - yeesh :)

Buzz, no, I don't routinely have clams lurking in my fridge. I got these in anticipation of making another dish that I kept failing to find the time to make. But I didn't want to lose them :)

Stephanie said...

See, the biggest difference between my repurposeing and yours is that yours looks so beyond amazingly delicious. It's hard to resist licking the screen.

I do wish I had some fresh clams lying around in my fridge. And I do hope that scout is doing okay on his own for a while...i hope he returns for a good Thanksgiving feast.


Aunty Belle said...

uh, sure. What Buzz said--clams HAPPEN?? to be in yore ice-box?

( Uncle is a REAL ole fashioned fella--we have an ice-box, a victrola, an' sometimes he "draws" mah bath...takes his shoes to the cobbler.)

Sounds divine--an is ANYthang so satisfyin' than to use up the smidges of good stuff in a creative adventure?

Best weird clam dish I ever had was on the back side of Portugal, in a town called Beja--some dive lookin' place from the street wuz gorgeous inside--an' we had clams wif' pork( I Know!). seems it's a classic portugese thang.