Pizzas have, in my opinion, moved from the sublime to the ridiculous. A simple “tomato pie” topped with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni is now hard to find. So how about a fancy pizza that’s easy to prepare and one that will excite your family and friends when they come to your dinner table?
Cedar Key, once home to a mostly fin-fishing industry, has in recent years grown to be the epicenter of clam farming in Florida. “Cedar Key Sweets” are the Northern quahog variety and are mostly sold in the 2- to 2.5-inch size, commonly called “littlenecks.” The bite-sized and tender meat is perfect for pasta and chowders—or for just plain steaming. Cedar Key clams are readily available at major supermarkets and most specialty seafood markets in Florida and the Southeastern U.S.
Making ordinary, salad bar-style pasta salad is a no-brainer. And it usually is gummy, slimy—and tastes as if it were dressed with Penn Reel Lube. But making first-rate “gourmet” pasta salad isn’t difficult either. It just takes a commitment to using quality ingredients and a bit of time management.
Instead of pizza, try pizzaiola. This simple tomato sauce is easy to prepare and is an excellent addition to any meal featuring game such as wild pork or venison. Some chefs prefer it served over grilled and thinly-sliced medium rare loin, but my preference is to use it to slowly simmer tender steaks and feature it in Italian-themed sandwiches.
By the time April rolls around, I’m ready to quit eating heavy cool-weather seafood like fried fish, shrimp and oysters and am interested in lighter fare. And what better way to impress your family and friends is there than the simple Italian-American dish of fish piccata?
August days are long, and fishing outings often push the dinner hour towards dusk. And there are few of us who relish the idea of slaving in the kitchen preparing a nice dinner for ourselves or guests as the sun sets under the yardarm. So, why not consider having everything prepped and ready to cook in advance?
Blackened seafood, including fish and shellfish, should be black in color but not burned. It should have a spicy crust and the flesh should be tender and moist. Those qualities can only be attained with a spicy “rub” and a quick searing over a very hot fire.
During several of its growth stages, a blue crab will shed, or molt, its hard shell. And within hours of those events, the new shell begins to harden. It’s just before the hardening begins that soft-shell crabs are harvested, chilled, and often frozen as one of the most delicious products from the sea.
Sadly, side dishes are often overlooked and given less attention than main courses. Soggy French fries, rock-hard baked potatoes and a substance called “rice pilau” appear on plates aside perfectly good entrees of seafood and game. That’s a shame, so I offer my recipe for Cuban black beans as a solution.
Early summer meals may feature main courses of seafood or game, but let’s not overlook the importance of dessert. Flan is a typically Spanish or Cuban egg custard, and this coconut-infused modification of a Key West recipe is particularly tasty.
And they’re certainly not the oysters you let slide down the back of your throat without chewing. However, many folks like to eat oysters “dressed” and complex recipes like Oysters Rockefeller and Oysters Bienville headline menus from Florida to Texas. And every so often, something simple just jumps up off the table, begging you to take a bite.
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