A favorite dish, redux: Seafood Linguine in Coconut Sauce
If you were marooned on a desert island, what books would you want to have with you?
Ah, nothing fires up the inferiority complex quite like a good ol' desert island book list. Along with its close companion, the dead-or-alive dinner party invites, such compilations always seem to me not so much helpful guides to worthy publications and personages but more as gauges of a person's level of cultural knowledge and sophistication. For this reason, I find them intimidating.
I consider myself well-read and relatively intelligent, but it's hard to shake the feeling that offering up personal favorites leaves me open to social judgment and reveals my plebeian tastes. So, I scour my memory for those classic titles that were required readings in high school or check current book reviews for the latest de rigueur read, intent on presenting a polished, cultured image. But while my fragile ego whispers, "Be sure to list Tolstoy, Hemingway, Homer [insert name of Literary Giant here]", my alter ego yells, "You're marooned on a @#$&*% desert island - pick books that'll make a decent raft!"
Welcome to Tangled Island
It's no better even when the request is for a single work, as when Mark Manguerra and Duncan Markham, co-editors of the dedicated culinary book review site The Gastronomer's Bookshelf, recently announced their first giveaway. The prize: David Chang's Momofuku, named to multiple 'Best of 2009' lists. The rules: simply share "the most important cookbook of your life" (details here).
But it might as well have read, "The most important cookbook that will determine your food blogging social life". Spending considerable time picking through my bookshelf, I searched for a title that would leave the most favorable impression: would Toussaint-Samat's History of Food wow the judges or should I show a sweet side with The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum? Yet time and again, my gaze was drawn to the one book that I really didn't want to admit, but could not deny, as being The One. You see, the most important cookbook of my life is not a Child, Rombauer, Hazan or Keller. It's a Campbell - The Treasury of Campbell's Recipes.
Warhol may have elevated them to pop art iconography, but in the realm of gastronomy, Campbell's soup is kitsch in a can. Nonetheless, of all the cookbooks I own, it is this compendium of convenience food recipes that has spent the most time by the stove. For as long as Mr. Noodle and I have been married, for each move to a new city and an unfamiliar kitchen, it has been a mainstay. It didn't teach me how to cook - I knew the rudiments already - but as a young cook of limited budget and still-developing culinary skills, it allowed me to prepare meals that didn't involve instant ramen noodles. From this book, I first learned what orzo was and how to use wine in cooking, and I proudly served dishes made from its recipes to my first few dinner guests. With improved finances, more knowledge and a palate refined, I bought other books, quality tools and better ingredients, but I still made one or two recipes from Treasury that had become favorites. Though rarely used today, it still holds a place among my go-to cookbooks.
Some might consign The Treasury of Campbell's Recipes to the bottom of the pile and find it rather ironic that I chose such a book for the chance to win one that is so highly-coveted and critically praised. But I now see it differently: to climb some of the highest peaks, you often have to start at the lowest valley. In the years since I made my first canned soup recipe, I've slowly cooked my way upward. I'm not yet in view of the pinnacle and I may never reach it, but I'm enjoying the climb.
And the view is ever so much better than on a desert island.
Linguine Frutti di Mare con Salsa di Cocco
(Seafood Linguine with Coconut Sauce)
Page 178 of my copy of Treasury of Campbell's Recipes is wrinkled, splotched and well-used due to the favored recipe it contains: Linguine with Clam Sauce. I no longer make this dish as given by the book, which called for a can of cream of mushroom soup, but Mr. Noodle and I have fond memories of it. Now, I make it sans can but it doesn't mean I've also given up convenience. The following recipe still involves prepared ingredients such as canned coconut milk, frozen seafood and ground spices, but I hope you'll see the progress I've made.
As for the mouthful of moniker above, you can chalk it up to the influence of my mother, whose elegant style is rooted in the simple yet steadfast rule that a lovely accessory adds flair to the most simple outfit. So why not do the same for a simple dish?
1 large shallot, sliced fine
1 tsp flour
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp minced ginger or ginger paste
1 Tbsp crushed garlic or garlic paste
1 can coconut milk
1/4 tsp ground galangal
1-2 tsps patis (fish sauce)
1 tsp sambal oelek
2/3 cup chicken broth
1 lb seafood mix (or your choice of shrimps, clams, bay scallops, etc.)
8oz linguine, cooked
Cilantro, for garnish
Green onions, garnish
2. In a wok or saucepan, heat oil and add ginger and garlic. Lightly fry;
3. Slowly pour in coconut milk, then stir in ground galangal, patis, sambal and chicken broth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and continue to simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens a bit;
4. Add seafood and heat until cooked through, then remove sauce from heat;
5. In a large bowl, toss cooked linguine noodles and sauce, which should thicken more as the noodles absorb it;
6. Serve with a garnish of crispy fried shallots and sprinkle with cilantro and green onions. Enjoy!
**To fry shallots to golden crispiness, I followed these steps from Penny at Jeroxie. But be warned: her blog is addictive and consuming!
Momofuku by David Chang was one of the hottest, best-reviewed cookbooks of 2009 and now, Mark and Duncan are giving away a copy! It's not too late to enter - just head over to The Gastronomer's Bookshelf for full details. Entries will be accepted until 12 pm GMT (7 am EST) on Sunday, February 7th. Good luck!