By Ana Kinkaid
It was Shakespeare who wrote in his famed play, Twelfth Night, that “If music be the food of love, play on.” If there is any day of the year that proves his elegant prose correct, it must certainly be Valentine’s Day.
The holiday, though dating from the days of ancient Rome, has long been been linked to love, always well supported by sensual foods and, of course, romantic music. Medieval maidens in France were serenaded by roving troubadours while dining behind castle walls on slices of rich meats flavored with rare spices.
Clams Posillipo for the Classic Romantic
Modern women, however, expect a more direct approach but one still embracing fine foods and memorable music. And if there is one singer who captures the spirit of romance decade after decade, it’s Frank Sinatra.
Known as “The Voice” or “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” Sinatra had a career that spanned from the 1940s all the way through the 1970s. The beautiful love ballads he sang became so iconic that to this day, few artists have dared to replace Sinatra’s version with their own interpretation.
Less known is Sinatra’s love of shellfish, especially Clams Posillipo as prepared by chefs at Patsy’s Italian Restaurant on West 56th Street in New York City during the 1940s. Rich and red, it’s the perfect Valentine’s dish for those whose hearts are full of both song and affection.
2 pounds Taylor Manila Clams
3 Tbs. olive oil
6 garlic cloves, halved
1 small yellow onion, chopped (about ¼ cup)
24 oz. jar of marinara sauce, or 1 can (28 oz.) whole plum tomatoes with juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 Tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
Place the clams in a large pot.
Add cold water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
Cook until the shells open, about 5 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the clams to a large bowl.
Discard any clams that have not opened.
Strain the cooking liquid though a chinois or a strainer lined with a coffee filter.
Reserve ¾ cup of this liquid as clam broth.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over a medium flame.
Sauté the garlic halves until golden, about 2 minutes.
With a slotted spoon or tongs, remove and discard the garlic.
Sauté the onion in the garlic oil for 3 to 4 minutes, until soft and translucent.
Add the cooked clams in with the garlic oil, followed by the tomato sauce.
Stir in the reserved clam broth and the basil and parsley.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.
Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes or until the clams are heated through.
Spoon the clams and sauce into a large serving bowl.
Pour any excess sauce over the top of the clams, garnish with parsley and serve immediately.
Faux Caviar on Oysters for the Modern Romantic
Yet if guests are drawn to a more modern dining experience different than classic Italian cuisine, many diners may prefer faux caviar, created via the stunning process of spherification.
Spherification is the culinary technique of shaping a sweet or savory liquid into spheres using sodium alginate and either calcium chloride or calcium glucate lactate. The resulting shape resembles fish roe both visually and texturally.
The technique was first discovered by Unilever in the 1950s and brought to the attention of astounded critics and delighted diners by the amazing team at elBulli under the guidance of the world famous chef Ferran Adrià.
When used to garnish fresh oysters, often served on the half shell, spherified faux caviar, also known as “pearls,” can add a range of new flavors unrestricted by the added ingredient’s original more bulky form. Additionally, a nearly endless range of colors can be added to the white canvas of fresh oysters resting in their shells, making the dish visually stunning and perfect for the modern romantic!
Fruit Flavored Caviar Pearls on Oysters
Sodium Alginate Bath
3 g sodium alginate
325 g water
Calcium Chloride Bath
5 g calcium chloride
1,000 g (1 L) water
Pipette or syringe
Liquid Flavor Ingredient of Choice (200 mL) – Raspberry, Apple, Rum, Gin as examples
32 fresh Taylor Pacific Oysters
Dissolve sodium alginate in water, using an immersion blender to mix well for 5 to 10 minutes.
In a pot, bring the solution to a boil.
Cool to room temperature.
In a separate bowl, dissolve the calcium chloride in water.
In a small bowl, mix liquid flavor ingredient of choice with the sodium alginate solution in a roughly 2:3 v/v ratio (liquid of choice: sodium alginate solution).
Using a pipette or syringe, gently squeeze liquid out drop by drop into the calcium chloride bath.
Small spheres will form.
Let the spheres “cook” for about 1 minute before removing from bath using a slotted spoon.
Rinse with water before serving.
Serve promptly on freshly shucked oysters.