When I came home from residency on Saturday night, I had some good things waiting for me. There was Matt, the cuddly baby kitties, and the newest issue of Bon Appetit. I could have torn the whole thing up, it was so full of recipes I wanted to try. There were the Korean-style short ribs, a buttermilk blackberry cake (that requires a springform pan... one of the few tools I haven't gotten yet!), green shawarma salmon, and a Summer Tomato Bouillabaisse with Basil Rouille. I'm a big bouillabaisse groupie, after making Ina Garten's chicken version back in the apartment days. It's such an elegant, fragrant, impressive dish that isn't all that difficult to put together. It's the kind of thing that draws people in with its rustic charm without being pretentious. It reminds me of the end of Ratatouille, when the snobby restaurant critic is so excited by the Provencal dish of his childhood. Dishes like that let fresh, flavorful ingredients sing for themselves without fancy dressing.
Coincidentally, Matt mentioned that he was craving seafood. It couldn't be anything too hardcore (like that crazy-good looking shawarma), but he does like anything of the shellfish variety: shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels. A perfect fit for the summery bouillabaisse.
The recipe called for those bright, blossoming flavors that are just starting to sprout and usher in this belated summer. Tomatoes cooked until they burst, brightened up with fresh basil and parsley. Walking out and plucking tonight's ingredients out from the dirt makes the mortgage worth it to me. My parsley is finally starting to take off, alongside garlic and onions that are agonizing to watch (are they ready!? What are they doing under there? Could I take a peek and bury it again...?). Tonight I got to pluck a whole mess of peas from their vines for a simple herb pasta, which when lightly boiled and blanched, should not legally be classified in the same species as those mushy things from a can.
Anyway, this was the first time I'd cooked clams on my own, although I came close with my ho-hum mussels from earlier this year. Whenever I wash living shellfish, I get terrified that they're going to suddenly spring to violent life, open up and chomp down on my fingers. I don't think they're physically capable of that, but still. That and David Foster Wallace will keep me from graduating to lobsters anytime soon.
The colors in this dish are so vibrant, so bright, echoed in the flavors of light licorice fennel and lemon, and that rouille on warm, crusty bread? I could literally eat a whole loaf of herbalicious spread on its own. I served it up in these cute lidded ramekins I registered for back in the scan gun-happy wedding days, that remind me of New England clam bakes. The salty, briny flavors made me feel like I was still shoreside at idyllic Cannon Beach, as if I could turn my head out to the sliding glass door and see sailboats gliding across the lawn. Unlike my last foray into muscles, this recipe drove us to more bread to lap up the savory broth. Stew may not normally be summery, but with the lightness of the seafood and sunny lemon notes, it somehow works.
I'm so glad to be back to my very own kitchen, real ingredients, a blossoming garden and an exceptional batch of new recipes. Oh, and it's nice to hug Matt too.
Summer Tomato Bouillabaisse with Basil Rouille
from this month's Bon Appetit
4 garlic cloves, divided
1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup mayonnaise
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 cups cherry tomatoes
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, halved and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 8oz bottle clam juice
3 lbs mixed shellfish (clams, cockles, mussels), scrubbed
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Crusty bread for serving
Mince or finely grate 2 garlic cloves and transfer to a food processor. Add basil, mayonnaise, 3 tbsp oil, anchovies, and lemon juice. Puree until smooth. Transfer basil rouille to a small bowl. Cover and chill.
Heat remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add tomato and fennel; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes burst, about 10 minutes.
Slice remaining 2 garlic cloves and add to pot. Cook, stirring often, until garlic becomes fragrant, about 1 minute. Add clam juice and 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Add shellfish and cook, covered, until opened (discard any that do not open), about 3 minutes. Stir in parsley. Spread basil rouille on bread and serve alongside.