Last Saturday eve, I hosted my first Austin cooking demonstrations and we delved into the basics of Italian cuisine. With inspiration coming from summers in Capri, I set to the task of Grilling Octopus, throwing together a Fresh Tomato Bruschetta and cooking up a divine version of Spaghetti alle Vongole. The evening was set off on an even sweeter note with my dearest friend and fellow cooking companion, Sandi Reinlie, when she threw together a pine nut, vanilla bean mascarpone and balsamic glazed strawberry tart. All within 20 minutes. Needless to say, people want to feel that whatever we are demonstrating they themselves can do at home and this was a hit. There are a few differences between fast and easy even though they are used so interchangeably by everyone these days. A dish, for example, can be easy to make but take time, or be fast to put together but require great skill. What I have noticed is that most of us these days want recipes that are a combination of the two. Realizing this put me on a crash course of reworking my favorite recipes so that I can determine ways to cut time and simplify techniques without sacrificing a particular dish or menu. Its going to be a challenge, albeit one I will enjoy, but the following recipes are instant examples of such. Thanks again to my premier group of ” gypsies” .
Grilled Baby Octopus w Lemon and Basil Aioli
1 pound of fresh baby octopus, heads removed
6 tbsp of evoo
2 tsp of salt and a pinch of pepper
1 tsp of chopped garlic
2 egg yolks
5 basil leaves, rolled together and chopped
Begin by preheating your grill on high for 5 minutes, top down. Take your thawed octopus, 3 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tsp of salt, pepper and 1/2 the garlic and toss together in a large metal bowl or ziploc. Set aside. Can be left in marinade overnight or for a few hours, although it is also unnecessary if time doesn’t allow.
Once your grill is smoking hot, take tongs and gently lift the octopus out one by one and lay them flattened on the grill. ( If you dump them out all together, the oil will catch fire and they will not cook evenly )
Leave to grill for 4 minutes on high, top open, then turn and repeat on the other side. After 8 mintues, remove from heat to a platter.
For the Aioli, take your egg yolks, remaining salt and garlic and whisk gently in a large metal bowl. Slowly stir in remaining olive oil, whisking well to incorporate. The mixture should have the consistency of mayonnaise. Throw in the basil, stir and serve immediately . If you don’t have eggs or want to make a different version, 1 c of store bought mayo with the juice of half a lemon and the basil makes an easy and elegant sub.
* when consuming raw eggs, the remaining mixture should be kept cold. Throw out any aioli that was served, but not eaten.
Spaghetti alle Vongole
2 pounds of clams, mixed or all one type – I find the smaller ones easier to manage.
1-2 pounds of spaghetti, linguine or angel hair
2 c of white wine ( that you would actually drink )
2 tsp of minced garlic
Juice of half a lemon
3 tbsp of EVOO
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp of cold butter, diced
Start by bringing a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. ( should taste like the sea ) Throw in your pasta with a touch of olive oil.
In a large sided pan, add olive oil and garlic and cook until slightly opaque.
Toss in your rinsed clams and saute for a minute or less.
Throw in the white wine, carefully lifting the pot off the fire if you are worried it might be too hot. ( if the garlic begins to burn, add more olive oil or wine to drop the temperature in the pan )
Once the mussels begin to open, drain your cooked -al dente -pasta, which should be soft but snap a touch when pulling apart, reserving a few tbsp of pasta water. Remove your clams and begin to reduce your sauce by a third by adding in the reserved pasta water and lemon juice. Once the sauce thickens a bit, remove from heat and stir in cold butter. Toss in your pasta and clams and stir to coat. Remove to a large serving bowl and serve with herb croutons slightly crushed on the top~