Cooking is often about remembering -- actively, looking forward and without regret. You might be inspired by a family member, an incredible vacation, a certain farmer's produce or a neighborhood restaurant dish that you loved.
A dish, perhaps, in New Classic Family Dinners by Mark Peel. This isn't a new book, but it is one that Peel told Squid Ink in an interview, just before the book's release, was his "favorite" of the three cookbooks he has written (here, co-written with Martha Rose Shulman).
In the first chapter, "Salads and Warm Starters," Peel tells us the dishes were all served as first courses at Campanile's Monday Night Family Dinner menus over the years: sweet corn and crab salad, stewed chickpea salad with feta, olives, and mint, eggplant Parmesan, and a spring vegetable ragout with lentils. Just the sort of cooking memories, and restaurant elegies, being stirred up last week when Campanile served its final meal -- at least within the restaurant's walls. Get Peel's recipe for Clams Casino after the jump.
Many of the pasta and risotto dishes that follow in the next chapter also made Monday night appearances, like stuffed shells with Bolognese sauce, roasted asparagus pasta with Pecorino Romano, wild mushroom risotto, and giant ravioli filled with ricotta, spinach and a creamy egg yolk.
Among the meat and poultry mains are recipes for Campanile's house burger, the easy Port and red wine-based steak sauce ("our A-1 sauce") that the restaurant had on hand "every night at Campanile for twenty years," Peel's fried chicken and duck braised in white wine with green olives. Seafood is plentiful, as are the sides -- including the Thanksgiving-appropriate recipe for "mashed potatoes finally revealed" (Oh, now, don't look so surprised; you've tasted them and already knew there was an ungodly amount of butter and cream in there).
But as we flip through those nostalgic pages, we keep circling back to the restaurant's recent Facebook photos, with longtime customers in "Occupy Campanile" t-shirts grinning alongside the chef peppered with profiles of employees who have worked at the restaurant for 20+ years. On closing night, someone snapped a shot of the last fire on the kitchen stove; the last group snapshot of Peel and his staff will make you smile, whether you've dined at Campanile or not.
Keep scrolling through the photos, and you may feel inclined to make Peel's take on Clams Casino, one of the book's easier recipes that you can toss together for a cocktail toast.
Not because it is the penultimate dish Campanile will be remembered for, though perhaps for you, it was. But because, as Peel says, it is "classic American." The sort of appetizer that falls within the parameters of what Peel reminds us, in that first "Salads and Warm Starters" chapter, is more than just a first bite:
"The salad or starter is a crucial part of the menu; many times it's what you remember about a meal."
"Clams casino is one of those classic American dishes that inspired me to write this book. I wanted to renew interest in some dishes that were delightful in their original incarnations, but then were overdone, often badly, to such an extent that they fell out of favor. If you make the these clams casino this way (and this recipe is different from the classic because I don't crumble the bacon), you'll understand why it became so popular. Cut the bacon into small slabs, which protects the clams from overcooking while infusing them with its flavor. The bacon crisps up around the edges, giving you a nice contrast of chewy and crisp textures. The clams casino can be prepped ahead of time through step 4."
From: New Classic Family Dinners by Mark Peel with Martha Rose Shulman.
Makes: 24 clams, 6 to 8 servings
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 small garlic clove, green shoot removed, roughly chopped
Pinch of kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 ounces bacon (2 strips)
Rock salt for the baking sheet (optional)
24 Cherrystone clams, shucked and left on the half shell
1. In a mortar and pestle, mash together the herbs, garlic, salt and pepper. Add the butter and mash together.
2. Cook the bacon until just cooked through but not crisp. Remove from the heat and cut in 1-inch pieces.
3. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Cover a baking sheet with a 1/2-inch-thick layer of rock salt, if using. Heat in the oven for 5 minutes. Now preheat the broiler.
4. Place the clams on top of the salt (this is just to keep them steady). Top each with about 2 drops lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of the butter mixture. Lay a piece of bacon over the top.
5. Place under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes, until the butter is sizzling. Serve the clams casino immediately.