Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Huntington and Gathering

The importance of food in Italy is reflected by our increased time in hunting and gathering activities while we are here. Last Sunday was a good example of this Italian behavior because the hills near Siena were choked with cars parked along the country roads whose occupants were out gathering either mushrooms or the seasonal chestnuts. So it is to be expected that when we return to America we sometimes continue in our gastronomic pursuits. And what better place than Huntington, NY on Long Island. We were there for my brother-in-law's wedding, but managed to put a little time into other avenues.

Guided by my father-in-law, Dino, we arose early one morning to help ourselves to nature's bounty. We walked down to the private beach and proceeded to gently press our feet into the wet, rocky sands on the shore. A jet of spitting water signaled the point of attack. Here within six inches of the surface we found all the steamer clams we could hope to eat. Next we started to search for mussels, which was even easier to harvest as they had attached themselves to almost any surface around including the small pebbles that make up the bulk of the material of the land there.

Back at home, we made our feast. Delicious! The steamers were the freshest I have ever eaten. They were soft with a complex flavor of sea and shellfish without grit, dipped in the briny juice they made when cooked. There was also a small dish of melted butter to trawl them through before tasting. I did some butter trawling, but really I ate most of them butter free and when there were no more clams to eat, I drank the broth. Then I looked over at Maddine's plate, and ate some of the clam’s thick feet that she had declined.

Next were the mussels. Cooked with some garlic and fresh tomatoes salt and pepper along with some parsley and a little white wine served on a bed of al'dente spaghetti, they could not have been any better. These were simple clear flavors blending enough but not too much. Oh yeah!

One home gathered meal was not enough. We went to the same beach another day late in the afternoon to arrive with the evening tide. We carried a couple of light fishing poles and some frozen octopus. Dino said that the best fish to catch here were the small bluefish that eat along the grass near shore, but the fish that were biting that day were the porgy. It is also known as Scup and for the scientists here (Stenotomus chrysops). Having not fished in quite a while, I found it not only fun, but a good excuse to enjoy a beautiful afternoon outside. More than once while closely watching my red and white bobber my eyes would drift over the quiet scene and I would think that we could have still been in 19th century from the evidence right at hand. I wished I had more time and my paints with me. Back home with the fish, we wrapped them in foil with some oil and lemon and put them on the grill. On opening the foil we were seduced by the first wave of steam coming off the fish. Tender white meat with a very delicate flavor made a very satisfying meal and very complete day. Ok there are small bones in the porgy but that just made it more of a slow food type of thing.