Why I Love January

Pink lemon slice from our tree
Pink lemons from our tree

It is a brisk and sunny Sunday afternoon in Orlando. I am sitting on my patio dressed in a sweater. These are the days I savor. I must say that January, February and March are my favorite months of the year here in Florida.  Those living in the North right now would beg to differ with me, but geographically, these months come bearing a plethora of lovely gifts from Mother Nature. It’s not too hot. It’s not too cold. Spring is tangible. I can envision my lawn coming back to life. I look forward to planting new pots of herbs with my husband, Wayne, to replace what the harsh cold has taken.

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So why do I love January? Because January here is Summer up North with it’s horn of plenty of  locally grown fruits and vegetables.  I visited my favorite produce stand, Clemons, last week and was greeted by more than 20 varieties of locally grown produce and fruit. Of course, citrus is plentiful right now. But rarely, does one think of Florida as a “garden state”. The Florida connotation is usually beaches, palm trees, and Disney World.  Surprisingly, however we grow a lot of wonderful produce in the winter months.  I  bought fresh Romaine, cucumbers, and beefsteak tomatoes all grown just an hour or two from my door. Clemons is one of the only places I know that brings the produce from farmer to your door without the middle man.

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The salad pictured here is one I made for Wayne and I for lunch yesterday. It is Florida fresh. It tasted fresh and perhaps, it is my imagination, but it looks a lot fresher as well.  It thrills me to know that I am eating something that did not travel very far to reach my plate. And the lemon pictured here is from our lemon tree in the back of our house.

The breeze just kicked up as I sit on the patio on this wondrous January afternoon. I love the combination of the warmth of the sun on my skin and the cool breeze on my face. I suppose, in many ways,  I share the same sentiments as my optimistic Northern friends who peer out the window at the snow piled high and hold onto their dreams of the first harbingers of Spring.  January arrives with its counterpart of a new year and a unique joy from thoughts of rebirth and renewal and fresh starts. January fills our hearts with new perspectives and new attitudes.  January is one of those months that grabs your attention in the moment, but at the same time, taps you on the shoulder to remind you of all the things your heart will be rejoicing about…..very, very soon.

The Proverbial White Clam Sauce (Pasta alle Vongole)

I just adore pasta fixed any which way, BUT, and this is a big BUT, no sauce like white clam sauce has this crazy effect on me.    I do believe that I fall in love with my pasta.  The aroma is wonderful.  It is like standing on the beach and a lovely, fresh ocean breeze circulates your face. It is truly a dish like no other pasta dish.  White clam sauce stands alone.  There are many variations of tomato sauce for pasta, but white clam sauce is unique unto itself, and truly, you don’t want to be adding all kinds of extra things to this dish, because its simplicity is what makes it “roar”!

My first encounter with this dish was, of course, my Mom’s.  Her white clam sauce was very simple, and consequently, very delicious.  She only used fresh clams.  The rest was olive oil, garlic and plenty of it, fresh flat leaf parsley, and a shake of salt and pepper to taste.  I watched a well known cook the other day on television make clam sauce,  and I really felt she violated the dish when she left out the garlic!  I found myself shaking my head and not liking the show, as I was taught at an early age that the garlic is an essential ingredient.

It’s a no brainer that my Mom’s white clam sauce was always tops in my mind, until the day that I traveled to Rome in my late twenties.  I remember ordering it in a tiny restaurant  in the vicinity of the Spanish Steps.  It was amazing, and what made it so amazing were the size of the clams.  They were so tiny, and the pasta was covered with about 30-40 plus of them.  I had never had clams that were so sweet, so tender, or so full of flavor.  Again, it was the sum of its parts that yielded the perfect masterpiece.  Yes, I was making a lot of yummy noises while eating that dish.  The ingredients in Italy are very different than here in the United States.  I could actually start a whole blog on just that topic.  Each neighborhood has its own garden plentiful with fresh vegetables and herbs.  It is even a very common thing for a restaurant to have its own garden in the back or side of a hill.  Your salad at dinner was probably growing out there just that afternoon, and that’s what makes it taste so fresh, crisp, and alive.

So, let’s get back to reality here.  It goes without saying, and also may I ask your forgiveness, that my gluten free pasta with white clam sauce rendition cannot compare to the sublime experience of eating it in Rome.   I won’t be replicating that experience for you, sad to say.

However, it is quick, easy, and may I add, that it has “oceans” of flavor.

Va Bene!  (Okay, in Italian).

Ingredients

  • 3 cans (6.5 oz. size) chopped clams
  • (I love Bar Harbor brand, if you can find it near you)
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Large handful freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 small bottle clam juice
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 pounds gluten free pasta, your choice ( I like Tinkyada Fettucine)


Method

  1. Sautee chopped garlic in olive oil until cooked, but not brown
  2. Add red pepper flakes to hot oil and move around several seconds to release their fire
  3. Add clams with their juice
  4. Add bottle of clam juice
  5. Add chopped parsley
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste
  7. Bring to a simmer, then cover, take off heat and set aside
  8. Boil your pasta to desired doneness
  9. Drain and pour hot clam sauce over it
  10. Toss and serve

Potato Leek Soup (That Flour stuff most definitely optional)

I made potato leek soup today for the first time in my life. I found some very fresh enormous leeks at my neighborhood produce store. I just had to take them home.I reviewed many different leek soup recipes on the web, and then created my own version. Many of the recipes contained “flour”. Of course being gluten intolerant, I did

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not use flour. Quite frankly, I questioned the use of this ingredient, as potatoes, as we all know, are natural thickening agents. Just as I surmised, one does not need flour! This soup is gluten free without manipulation. It is pretty simple to put together and the best part is eating it. Delish! And your house is going to smell really wonderful with this one!

Sunday’s Potato Leek Soup

Serves: 6-8 hearty bowls
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

3-4 large leeks
6 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup white wine
5 cups chicken broth
Salt to taste
1/2 cup Half and Half cream
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Trim off the dark green ends of leeks. Save a small portion of the dark end. Wash and set aside. Discard the rest of the dark green ends. Cut white part of leeks in half lengthwise. Wash under cold running water thoroughly, as there is a lot of sand inside the leek layers. Dry them with a paper towel. Rough chop the leeks.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the chopped leeks. Season with fresh ground pepper and salt. Pour over the wine. Bring to boil and then simmer leek-butter-wine combo for 5-7 minutes. Add the chopped potatoes, saved green portion of leeks, thyme, bay leaf, chicken broth. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Bring to boil, then cover and simmer about 40 minutes until potatoes are soft and soup is very flavorful. Remove the green ends and thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Puree soup in batches in a blender or food processor.

Stir in the half and half and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve with chopped chives sprinkled on top and a few more twists of fresh black pepper from the grinder.

Wedge

Freshly cooked wedge of spinach and red onion gluten free pasta frittata