When I was a kid, I used to hate our local clam, halaan, WITH A PASSION. I can never understand its taste. It’s slightly tart, gingery, salty, sometimes grainy (especially if it wasn’t cleaned well) and gummy. My folks always prepared it the same way, boiling it in hot water with some ginger. UGH! It was such a dreadful fare that I often excused myself from the table and went back to bed. No bland clams please, kthx.
It wasn’t until, again, one of my aunts who worked in Italy came home and showed me how to enjoy these clams with pasta. Known to them as Pasta con Vongole, this sweet yet briny dish completely changed my opinion of halaan/vongole forever.
Last weekend’s trip to the market brought me back to my aunt’s pasta. A little inspired by the freshness of clams, I thought I’d give it a shot in cooking one of my favorite pasta dishes. This is a very simple and easy dish, stripping the flavors to its barest essentials.
What I love about Pasta con Vongole is it’s a dish that doesn’t overcook the seafood nor do the other flavors compete with the taste of the clams. In fact, if your seafood is fresh, this is one of the best dishes to taste the freshness of the clams. If you can get your clams fresh, then this is the perfect dish for it!
One of the simplest and tastiest pasta dishes I’ve come across
My experiments with pesto started when an aunt from Italy came home and started to make her pesto. The first thing she asked my mom was to buy some fresh basil, which 15 years ago was completely unheard of in our islands apart from its dried counterpart. So she decided to create a different kind of pesto, pounding a large bunch of Italian parsley (kinchay) along with some garlic. There were no pine nuts easily available nor did we have Parmesan cheese back then. With piping hot pasta, she tossed her green mashed concoction and called it pesto. It was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.
For years, I really didn’t give myself a shot in making a batch of pesto like my aunt did. But a really expensive bottle of pesto compelled me to find a cheaper and probably better alternative to the ones bought from the groceries.
Seriously. My mom went on a marketing spree in Bulungan last Sunday. One of her hauls was this big bucket worth of mussels, locally known as tahong, for 20 bucks (roughly $0.50). It must be around 3 kilos worth of mussels. She also got a bunch of shellfish innards sold for Php50 a kilo. The interesting thing with these innards is that once she looked closer, she realized that the innards contained scallops in it. And scallops for 50 bucks is definitely a bargain in my side of the country. The moment she got home, she showed me her seafood stash and I can’t think of anything else but adding it into a pasta.
My aunt from Italy taught me this recipe. It might be close to a simple marinara sauce but lighter and sweeter in flavor. Whenever we have seafood, even if it’s just mussels, I always try to cook it in this way. You can’t go wrong with this recipe as long as you have fresh ingredients. You can’t get that sweet briny taste if you don’t have fresh seafood. More than that, you’ll also get a tummy ache if your seafood’s not fresh. In this recipe, I only have mussels and scallops. You can be more experimental with your ingredients by adding other shellfish like clams, halaaan, and maybe some shrimps.
I don’t know if there’s a Japanese dish like this, but I love mixing and matching vegetables with the staple Mapo recipe. One of my favorite Chinese/Japanese dish is Mapo tofu. I also love variations of it such as Mapo Nasu and particularly this one, Mapo Beans.
Cooking Mapo is rather easy as long as you have the right ingredients. There are two crucial ingredients for Mapo and that is Chili Bean Paste (Tou Ban Jan) and Chili Garlic sauce (the chinese kind, not the sweet chili sauce in the market). These two ingredients are easily available in groceries and won’t cost an arm and a leg to get. For those who are scared that these rot easily, rest assured that they’re good to store for a year or so in your fridge and you’ll be addicted to mapo that you’ll be shocked that you’re out of Tou Ban Jan and Chili Garlic sauce.
Anyway, on to the recipe!
God, this egg dish will always remind me of Singapore mornings. When I was in Singapore, slept over at one of our family friend’s place, I woke up with a strong smell of soy, eggs, and toast. It was so wonderful that from then on, when I eat soft boiled eggs, I always eat it this way. This is how my Auntie Margaret (as I affectionately called her) used to do it, and it’s quite simple too! :3
These eggs are heavenly, and if you soft boiled your egg right (around 3 minutes or so?) then the soy and the yolk makes this nice gooey consistency and it’s just lurvely. =w= The recipe is quite versatile too. I sometimes add green onions or parsely, even some finely chopped tomatoes. After I ate this, I knew I was going to have a good day. mew! :3 Auntie Margaret! if you read this, luffles! <3 <3
Auntie Margaret’s Soft Boiled Eggs (Singapore style)
1 soft boiled egg
A splash of light soy sauce
Basically, you serve the soft boiled egg in a small bowl, then add some soy sauce (depends on how salty you want your eggs to be), and then sprinkle some pepper on top. You can eat it as is or eat it with toast.