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One of the most enjoyable meals I can think of to sit down to on a relaxed, sunny day is a big, flavorful mixture of seafood brimming with summer vegetables, fish fillets, and steamed clams and mussels. And the recipe for the delightfully named dish from Italy's Naples region, "acqua pazza" (literally "crazy water") serves that purpose perfectly.
But wait a minute, you might be thinking. Shellfish in summer, a season whose months are conspicuously missing from their names the "r" many people have been taught has to be present to indicate it's safe to eat mollusks like clams and mussels?
Fortunately, that wise old rule no longer needs to be followed strictly -- provided, that is, you carefully follow a few smart guidelines.
The "r" rule dates back at least a few centuries. It served as a simple way to sum up the fact that warm-weather brings on several shellfish problems. Heat promotes the development of coastal red tides that may turn shellfish toxic. Mollusks also spawn in this season, which can affect their texture and flavor. And, like all foods, if not safely stored they can spoil more quickly when temperatures rise.
The good news is that the modern commercial cultivation of shellfish under carefully controlled conditions helps to avoid all these r-month challenges. And government regulations and testing help to ensure that suppliers meet scrupulous safety standards. Nowadays, you can be pretty sure that any shellfish you see for sale in a reputable seafood shop or supermarket, or on a reliable restaurant's menu, are going to be safe to eat.
Still, as you would for any ingredients you buy or meals you order, you should take your own precautions. Turn back shellfish that don't look or smell absolutely fresh, or that seem suspicious in any way, whether in the market or at the table. When you buy fresh shellfish to cook at home, get them home quickly; on a hot day, it's a good idea to ask the place you bought them to pack them with ice for you. Once home, take them off the ice and unwrap them; cover loosely with a clean, damp towel or paper towel (do not store in a plastic bag or sealed container that cuts off their air); and store in the coldest part of the refrigerator, at about 35 degrees F., and cook within a couple of days but preferably on the day you bought them. After cooking, discard any with unopened shells.
That's all you need to know to enjoy fresh shellfish in my summery seafood stew, rich with the aromas of fresh tomatoes, garlic, saffron, and fresh basil. As the recipe's name suggests, I'm sure you'll go crazy for the delicious results.
Acqua Pazza with Sea Bass, Clams & Mussels
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: Serves 4
Acqua Pazza Recipe Ingredients
1 pound organic tomatoes
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Generous pinch saffron threads
1 pound live Littleneck clams, thoroughly rinsed and drained
1 pound live black mussels, debearded, thoroughly rinsed and drained
1/2 cup dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
2 slender eggplants, each about 8 inches long, trimmed, thinly sliced
1 organic green zucchini, trimmed, thinly sliced
1 organic yellow zucchini, trimmed, thinly sliced
10 fresh basil leaves, cut crosswise into thin strips
4 skinless sea bass fillets, each 6 ounces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 organic red bell pepper, halved, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 tablespoons Basil Oil (recipe follows)
Acqua Pazza Recipe Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Place a large bowl filled with ice and water nearby. With a small, sharp knife, core each tomato and score the bottom with an X. Carefully immerse the tomatoes in the boiling water. When their skins begin to wrinkle, 10 to 30 seconds, remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into the ice water. Drain, peel, cut in half, and squeeze out the seeds. Coarsely chop.
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. Saute the onion and garlic until just beginning to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, cayenne, and saffron; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the clams, mussels, and wine, cover, and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and uncover. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.
Heat another large saute pan over high heat and add 3 tablespoons oil. Saute the eggplant until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and saute 1 minute longer. Stir in 1 tablespoon fresh basil. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and keep warm.
Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat an ovenproof nonstick saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining oil. Cook the fillets skinned side up until the undersides are golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook 4 minutes longer. Return to medium-high heat, turn the fillets, add the butter, and baste with it, continuing to cook until the undersides are golden, 2 minutes longer.
To serve, distribute the shellfish and sauce evenly among 4 serving plates. Divide the vegetables among the centers of the plates. Top with the fish and garnish with bell pepper and the remaining basil. Drizzle Basil Oil around the edges.
Makes 1-1/2 cups
2 cups packed fresh organic basil leaves
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Place a bowl of ice cubes and water nearby.
Add the basil to the boiling water, submerge with a slotted spoon, and immediately scoop out and transfer to the ice water.
Drain thoroughly. Line a baking tray with paper towels and arrange the leaves on top. Leave to dry for 1 hour.
Put the oil in a blender. Turn on the machine. Little by little, add the basil until a smooth puree forms.
Pour into a squirt bottle or covered container. Leave at cool room temperature to steep for several hours before use.
Seafood, Acqua Pazza, Italian Cuisine
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Acqua Pazza Recipe with Sea Bass, Clams & Mussels
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