September 17, 2021

A la Carte: Two Columns This Week and a ‘Nibbles’ Too! Enjoy Eggplant Parm Panini, Clam Chowder with Corn & Chorizo

A la Carte-1: Creamy Corn and Clam Chowder with Crispy Chorizo

Lee White

It was a really nice week. My oldest Troy childhood friend in the world visited for two days. (Her name is Rosalie. She is about a year older than me and, no, I was not named after her.) We ate lobster rolls at Captain Scott, I grilled steaks on the grill and we had sweet corn and a big salad, and the last night we ate not-great pizza and Coca-Cola, like we did a gazillion years ago.

I also had a nice coffee chat with David Collins at Mystic Depot and we talked for almost an hour. He suggested I stop at Sea Well on Masons Island and buy a pint of the scallop and bacon soup he thinks is incredible. I did and he is right; see the Nibbles* column below.

Best of all was I got my COVID booster shot. The day before the storm, I stopped at Stop & Shop to pick up a few things (not toilet paper or a gallon of milk). I went to the pharmacy on-site and asked if I could get the booster. I filled two forms and got my shot. Sunday I ran a fever for about 14 hours, during which I took a couple of ibuprofen. Today I am fine.

Oh, yes, Bon Appetit magazine came in the mail. There were nice ideas for autumn meals, but I saw a recipe (below) that required sweet corn. Our local sweet corn will probably be available for at least another month. I love clam chowder and this recipe uses the blended corn as a thickener. But feel free to add a soupcon of heavy cream or a pat of butter when you serve it!

Creamy Corn and Clam Chowder with Crispy Chorizo

Photo by Kevin Lanceplaine on Unsplash.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, September, 2021
Yield: 4 servings

5 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
4 ounces fresh chorizo, preferably Mexican, casings removed (any dry sausage will do)
1 teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika or regular smoked paprika
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
24 littleneck clams (about 2 pounds), scrubbed
4 ears of corn, kernels removed (about 4 cups)
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Kosher salt (I use fine sea salt)
Cilantro leaves with tender stems (for serving, optional)

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium-heat. Add chorizo and cook, breaking up into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon and stirring every minute or so, until browned and crisp. About 5 minutes. Sprinkle in paprika and stir to combine, then scrape chorizo and all into a small bowl. Wipe out pot.

Pour remaining 2 tablespoons oil into same pot . Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, and adding a splash of water if starting to brown, until softened but not browned, 10-12 minutes. Add clams and toss to combine. Cover pot and cook until clams open, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncovered and transfer opened clams to a medium bowl, leaving liquid behind. If any clams are still closed, cover pot again and cook remaining until opened, about 4 minutes more. Transfer open clams to bowl, discard any that have not opened at this point. Tent bowl with foil.

Pour 3 cups water into pot and bring to a simmer. Add corn kernels and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Remove pot from heat and puree one third of chowder in a blender until very smooth. Return puree to pot and mix well. (Or use an immersion blender, if you have one and blend directly into the pot until you have blended about one-third and chowder is partly thickened.) Stir in lime juice, taste and season with salt if needed.

Divide chowder among shallow bowls and add clams. Spoon chorizo and oil over and scatter some cilantro on top (if you are using cilantro; I know some people hate it!)

A la Carte-2: Eggplant Parm Panini

One of the many vegetables I never tasted growing up was eggplant. As I have mentioned before, the only veggies I grew up with were canned green beans, canned peas and canned corn. We didn’t have a garden, but in the summer we would have fresh sweet corn and local tomatoes. If we had salad, it was iceberg lettuce, anemic tomatoes, maybe a few chunks of cucumber and a choice of bottled dressing. 

I love everything about eggplant—its shiny exterior, its gushiness in a ratatouille, roasted in the oven or the whole eggplant charred on the grill. Eggplants are best when they are young. They do not need to be peeled. They are watery, so you can slice them, salt them a bit and allow the slices to dehydrate between paper towels. 

In my newest issue of Real Simple magazine, I cut out four recipes, one for eggplant on a panini. The next morning I looked at a shelf in my kitchen and saw my panini press. Why had I not used it during the pandemic? Or even before it?

This recipe can be made in a panini press or in a skillet pressed down by another. The recipe calls for roasting the eggplant in the oven, but you could do it on your grill. You don’t need to fry it in a lot of oil. It is particularly delicious while tomatoes are still luscious and local.

Eggplant Parm Panini

Photo by Huzeyfe Turan on Unsplash.

From Real Simple, September, 2021
Yield: makes 4 sandwiches

1 eggplant, cut into 8 1-inch rounds
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
¾ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 1-pound ciabatta, split horizontally and quartered (8 slices total)
1 big tomato, cut into 8 thick slices
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
1 8-ounce ball fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about ½ cup)
¼ cup marinara sauce 

Place a large, rimmed baking sheet in oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss eggplant with oil in a large bowl until fully coated. Arrange eggplant evenly on preheated baking sheet; roast, flipping halfway through, until tender and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a grill pan over high (or heat a panini press).

Season eggplant with ½ teaspoon salt. Place 2 eggplant slices on each of the 4 bread slices. Top eggplant with tomato slices; season with remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Top with basil and mozzarella; sprinkle with Parmesan. Portion each with marinara. Top remaining 4 bread slices with marinara and form 4 sandwiches.

Place two sandwiches on grill pan and top with another heavy pan, pressing down to flatten sandwiches. Cook, flipping once, until cheese has melted and bread is crispy and browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining sandwiches. (Or cook all 4 sandwiches in a panini press.)  

*Nibbles:  Sea Well Seafood Mystic Scallops and Bacon Chowder

David Collins has written for The Day for as long as I have. Now he has a column but when he was a reporter, he did some good restaurant reviews. So he suggested I try Sea Well’s scallop and bacon chowder, I drove the few minutes to Masons Island by 9:45 a.m. but it didn’t open until 10, so I sat in my car, windows open to the sea air and read on my Kindle.

The chowder must be lots of people’s favorite because the nice clerk pointed to plastic containers in the cooler. I took one home. That night I had it with a salad. It was thick with milk or cream or butter, or all three; the scallops were chunky and really tender, and the bacon was a splendid, salty counterpoint to the excellent soup. 

There is another Sea Well in Pawcatuck at 3 Liberty St. (860-599-2082). When we lived in Canterbury, I drove 40 minutes there to buy fish. On my first visit, a chalk board said they had cod pieces. I laughed and laughed, but no one there thought it was funny. I guess you had to read about Shakespeare plays in the 15th and 16th century! 

Sea Well Seafood Mystic
106 Masons Island Road
Mystic, CT 06355
Tel: 860-415-9210

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