What would your “last supper” meal be?
A last meal should be something comforting and decadent and flavorful and satisfying. Mine would probably be a big bowl of cioppino, with plenty of charred bread on the side for dipping. Cioppino is an Italian seafood stew, and I order it every time I see it on a menu.
Despite being one of my favorite things to eat, cooking any kind of seafood at home has always intimidated me. I challenged myself to grill swordfish last year, and shrimp find their way into many of our home-cooked meals, but that’s about where it ends (at least when I’m the one cooking!). When I browsed one of the cookbooks I got for Christmas, this photo of Giada’s Noodle Paella drew me in. Delectable.
Paella is a Spanish dish, usually made with rice and saffron. Giada’s version is full of chicken and shrimp and shellfish, using noodles instead of rice. Mouth watering, I set aside my insecurities and dove in.
As I’ve learned time and time again, my fears in the kitchen are usually unfounded. Once I actually try something that scares me, I realize my hesitation was silly. That’s what happened with this dish. Nothing about this recipe was difficult or required specialized skills, but the result could have been on a restaurant menu! I started browning chopped chicken in a big pot. I chopped up an onion, orange bell pepper, and a fennel bulb, and sliced up plenty of garlic. The browned chicken came out of the pot and the veggies went in!
Next came the liquids. The recipe calls for three jars of clam juice, but I only had two on hand- I supplemented with some white wine that I conveniently had nearby (ahem). I followed that up with a can of diced tomatoes.
Time to season it up! I tossed in a palmful of paprika, then crumbled up some saffron tendrils and added them to the pot. Saffron adds a strong, unique flavor and vibrant color. In went a few bay leaves and a dash of cayenne pepper, and I let the sauce simmer for a bit.
We’re rounding third here! I broke up whole wheat spaghetti into short pieces and added them to the sauce. The chicken rejoined the party. Next, I added some peeled raw shrimp and my new friends- clams.
While the noodles and seafood cooked in the sauce, I chopped plenty of fresh parsley. I added most of it to the paella, saving some for garnish. The shrimp was nice and pink and the clams had opened wide- chow time!
It’s undeniable: this dish ROCKS. It’s brothy, like my beloved cioppino. We scooped mouthfuls with crusty bread. I loved the bite of the fennel, and you can’t mistake the saffron’s richness. The whole wheat noodles were a nice textural change from the traditional rice. Cooking with clams was ridiculously easy! Personally, I thought the shrimp and clams were perfect and might leave out the chicken next time.
One of my Life List items was to attempt at least one new recipe each week. Every time I challenge myself with new-to-me ingredients or methods, I learn something and feel more comfortable in the kitchen. Now that I’ve experienced how easy it is to cook with shellfish, it might be time to attempt my favorite meal of all time…
Who’s got a cioppino recipe I should try?
Giada’s Noodle Paella (from her new cookbook, Feel Good Food)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound chicken breast, chopped
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon pepper
- 1 medium fennel bulb, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, sliced
- 3 (8 ounce) bottles clam juice
- 1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
- 3 dried bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti, broken into 1-inch pieces
- 12 small clams (such as Manilla), scrubbed (I found larger clams, so used less)
- 12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
In a 5-quart saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and season with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside, 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a bowl and set aside.
Add the fennel, bell pepper, onion, and garlic to the pot. Season with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the clam juice, tomatoes, bay leaves, paprika, saffron, and cayenne pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost tender, about 9 minutes.
Return the chicken to the pot. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Add the rest of the salt and pepper. Add the clams and shrimp. Cover and cook until the clams open, the shrimp are pink and cooked thoroughly, and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Discard any unopened clams and the bay leaves. Mix in the parsley and serve. Don’t forget crusty bread for dipping! Yum!
Still hungry? Check out my culinary adventures on the FOOD BLISS link above!
One year ago: I took a chance and shared difficult parts of my past on The Ramblings.