Today marks the end of the season of Epiphany for us Anglicans, and tomorrow begins the fast of Lent. This year Maria and I have decided to relinquish, among other things, the delights of meat for this season of fasting. Although we are not overly religious, ritualistic fasting holds a special place in our hearts for many reasons, if for no simpler reason than as an annual test of our will to ensure that it is indeed still free. Benedica.
This evening we planned to end Epiphany at a French restaurant, le Surcouf, in our new neighborhood of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, which boasts an excellent $25 table d'hote from Sun-Thurs. Grace, however, had other plans for us, which she expressed by wearing an delightfully odd hue of purple on her face and through a surprisingly complex coloratura soprano.
Plan B sprung into action: Jeff to his newfound local market to fetch salmon for Maria and steak for himself. A base hollandaise, he figures, can easily be transformed into a bearnaise and we can both have some delicious sauce. Upon arriving at said Marché, our energized protagonist discovers wafer-thin rib-eye and ne'er a fish is to be found. Sullen, the quester arrives home empty handed. He mauls through the cold box and the cupboards and find leftover tinned snails in the box and an additional tin in the pantry. Meh. Counts as flesh right? Still fulfilling my promise, hey?
Flashback: My last encounter with snails was awesome.
Seville. Forty-five degrees centigrade. You did not walk down the street to the Alcazar, you strolled slowly in the shade. Down the street from our Hesperia on Eduardo Dato, just before you get to the old city, out in the blazing sunshine there was an abandoned snail stand with a pair of scales and the most vivacious and delicious escargot I've ever seen: fat, succulent, with large loose and thin shells for easy extraction. Dear reader, I have always wanted to travel Europe and to have a kitchen at my disposal in every port, but never so much as I did that day.
Fettucini: Snail Aioli with White Wine, Fenugreek, and Watercress
1 cup (1 large) onion, small dice
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1 red chili or to taste (the spice of 1 chili, with the seeds removed, is undetectable)
1 cup escargots
2 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp capers, chopped coarsely
3/4 cup white wine (I used a vinho verde, but a chardonnay is probably best)
1 tbsp fish sauce (optional)
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup watercress
1/2 cup methi
Add Parmesan and/or Pecorino to taste. I tossed in about a half cup mixed.
Olive oil in the wok. Onion in the olive oil. Cook the onion on a medium heat until softened (you can cover it with a lid if you're short on time). Once the onion is soft, toss in the garlic and the chili and crank the heat up to high. When the onions suggest they are about to start browning, add the snails, the thyme, and capers. Continue to fry on high for another minute before adding in the rest of the ingredients. Reduce until the ingredients are no longer floating in the wine, but sitting on the pan.
Remove the thyme sprigs.
Add in your cooked fettuncini (al dente please) and continue cooking for a couple of minutes, to work the flavours into the pasta. Even after these couple of minutes the pasta should still be toothsome and not soft. Add the cheese while it's the pasta is hot and toss.
I garnished with a bit of a tomato.
Fish Sauce in Italian Cooking: Reader, if you're ever in a pinch and you can't find any anchovies, but you happen to have some fish sauce kicking around... Don't worry, that delicious stuff is made from anchovies, and I actually prefer it in Caesar salad dressing, because it mixes in smoothly with the emulsification.
Troubleshooting Tip (Pasta added too early): If it is far too hard, but the pasta has already been added to the sauce, just add a bit more wine or some veggie/chicken stock if you've already finished the wine. Add it in 1 tbsp at a time and let it steam the pasta. I'd go wine first though, stock will pollute the clean flavours of this pasta.
Herb Lovers Variation: Any herbs will do, really. Ask an Italian mom and she'll tell you that she just put in what she had handy, half the time. That's what I did here anyhow. Be careful with Sage and Tarragon, but go wild with Chervil, Basil, and Oregano (okay, not too wild with oregano). Also, if you really want those herbs to pop, add them at the end and cook them just long enough for them to wilt. The flavour will be much more herbaceous, as they won't have had the same opportunity to suffuse the broth with their aroma.
Note: If you're not cooking on a gas stove, it may be better to reduce the wine before hand, to prevent overcooking the herbs.