With Holy Week approaching planning a delicious meatless dinner shouldn’t be difficult if you follow our recipes, which are are quite diverse. Each takes a traditional favorite, but adds a bit of a twist to it. The Zuppa di Molluschi is an Italian recipe that would be at home in New England, where it is prepared (without the shells) as clam chowder. Pasta con le Zucchini is often prepared with spaghetti, but in our recipe, we cube the zucchini and sauté it in a spicy olive oil, served with penne. For the final recipe, we have selected Sicilian-style baked cod. Using the bright, vibrant flavors of Sicily, the fish has a different aroma and taste to any fish dinner that you have had before, unless you have been to the coast of Sicily. There is sweetness that comes from the red onion complimented by plenty of fresh mint and basil, a faint note is detected from the vinegar, while anchovy paste adds the salty intensity of the sea. Olives bring a final touch of richness to the plate. Try these recipes and enjoy the results!
Zuppa di Molluschi
Whole clams in their shells produce a delicious, hearty soup. In Italy, the type of clam used is the Palourde. Try the recipe using either cherrystone or littleneck clams.
3 pounds clams in their shells, well cleaned
2 cups clam juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp celery leaves, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 medium potatoes, diced
3 cups whole milk
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Place the clams in a large saucepan with the clam juice and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and steam the clams until they open, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard any clams that have not opened. Remove about half of the clams from their shells and leave the remainder in the shell. Strain the clam juice through a fine strainer with cheesecloth to remove any grit and reserve for a later step. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan on a medium-high flame and then melt in the butter. Sauté the onion, stirring occasionally until golden brown, about 5-6 minutes. Add the celery and sauté for another minute. Add the flour and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring to evenly cook the vegetables. Add the strained clam juice, diced potatoes, celery leaves, milk and bay leaf and bring to a simmer on medium-high flame, while deglazing the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat and simmer on medium for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
Remove the bay leaf; season with salt and pepper; add the parsley and the clams – both the ones in the shell and those removed. Cook for another 10 minutes and serve hot with crusty semolina bread.
Pasta con le Zucchini
Pasta with zucchini is a popular dish in Campania. It originated about 70 years ago in the town of Nerano, on the Sorrento peninsula. Although it is often made with spaghetti, this recipe uses penne, which creates a slightly lighter dish, perfect if you will be serving a main course of fish following the pasta.
1 lb penne pasta
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp red pepper flakes
2 cups zucchini, cut into half inch cubes
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
3 tbsp fresh garlic, chopped
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup reserved pasta water
4 tbsp grated Parmigiano cheese
3 tbsp unsalted butter
Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the pasta, but cook three minutes less than the directions given on the package. The pasta will finish cooking in the sauce. In a large sauté pan, add the olive oil and cook over a medium flame. Add the red pepper flakes, cook for two minutes while stirring to infuse the oil. Add the zucchini and stir well while they sauté. Continue cooking the zucchini until it begins start to brown, about three minutes. Add salt, pepper, mint, parsley and basil. Stir well to incorporate the ingredients with the zucchini mixture. Add the garlic, stir well and cook one more minute.
Add the cup of vegetable stock and cup of pasta water and continue to stir while the sauce reduces, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the drained pasta to the sauce and cook, stirring well for two to three additional minutes. Turn off the heat and add the grated cheese and butter, then stir well until all the cheese has melted and the butter is incorporated into the sauce. Serve family style in a large bowl.
Sicilian-style Baked Cod
This is exactly the kind of dish you will find at the seaside trattorias that dot the Sicilian coastline – simple, satisfying and big on flavor. Season carefully at each stage of preparation and you will love the results.
1 medium red onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 lb cod fillets, cut in 3 to 4- oz. portions
½ tsp anchovy paste
3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
3 or 4 sprigs fresh, flat-leaf parsley
8 to 10 fresh mint leaves
3 or 4 large fresh basil leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ cup dry white wine
12 oil-cured black olives, cracked and pitted
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the onion into quarters, then cut the quarters crosswise and separate the layers to create wide, square slices. In a sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper and sauté over low heat until the onion has wilted and starts to turn translucent; be careful not to let it brown. Add the red wine vinegar to the pan and shake it briefly, then transfer everything to the bottom of a medium-sized baking dish.
Wipe the pan with a paper towel to clean it, then place it back over low heat and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the anchovy paste and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the paste into the oil. Add the breadcrumbs into the pan and stir to completely coat them with the oil. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a small bowl to cool slightly.
Wash the herbs, pat them dry and finely chop them. Add them to the bowl with breadcrumbs and season everything with a small pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Lay the portioned fish on top of the onions and season with a bit more salt and pepper. Distribute the breadcrumb-herb mixture evenly on top of the fish. Add the white wine to the pan and scatter the olives around the dish. Bake the fish for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish; it should be cooked through but still moist. Check the pan after 10 minutes and add a bit of wine if necessary. Serve immediately with some of the onions, olives and pan juices spooned alongside the fish.