Daniel Young's Garlic Soup with Mussels
Diane Morgan's Gratin of Fennel and Tomato

Mark Bittman's Fideua


Ben's sister's boyfriend is a Spanish talent in the kitchen and he was the first one to introduce me to fideua, utter heaven if you love pasta and paella equally and don't know which to make for dinner. When I found a clipping for fideua in my recipe binders last night after work, I wanted nothing more than that for dinner. Little did I know what lay in store for me. For that Mark Bittman is a sneaky, sneaky fellow. I know I swore up and down I wouldn't cook anything of his again. After all, it was easy to go through my newspaper clippings and toss out all the ones headed with "The Minimalist". But I had forgotten about the recipes of his printed out in Word documents and filed in binders. In some cases, I forgot to note who they came from, and there they lurked, biding their time, until I came along and unwittingly snatched one up for suppertime. Curses!

I suppose I could have guessed, half-way through the cooking process last night, that something was amiss. I had short lengths of angel hair pasta scattered all around the recently cleaned kitchen: the floor, the stove, the countertops were covered. My brow was shiny with sweat and I kept snapping at Ben every time he tried to come close and help. The 12-inch pan called for in the recipe, to fit 1 pound of short pasta, was an absolute joke: every time I tried to stir the browning pasta, more of it ended up on unwanted surfaces. I came dangerously close to abandoning the recipe entirely, though in my wild-eyed state of hypoglycemia, I was still lucid enough to realize that might not be the best solution.

Instead, I dumped out a quarter of the pasta, turned my back on the gathering mess around me, and went to work, teeth gritted and all. I added saffron, sweet paprika and minced garlic to the toasted pasta in the pan and attempted to stir this altogether. Though more chaos in the kitchen ensued, I tried to focus on the dulcet tones of the Colbert Report emanating from the living room. I added clams and mussels and some water to the pan, and attempted to stir this. I kept trying to stir and adding more water to keep the pasta from burning for about 10 minutes, until the pasta seemed tender and the mollusks started opening. Then I added shrimps and scallops, and kept the heat on a few minutes longer to cook them through, before stirring in chopped parsley and turning off the stove.

We ate our fideua on the couch, plates balanced on our knees (it was too late for polite dinner conversation at the table), squeezing lemon over the seafood and chewing contentedly in silence. Because you know? It was pretty good. Those Spaniards know what they're doing with the saffron and the seafood and the deliciousness that ensues. If only the recipe transcriber, AHEM, could have done a better job of telling me to use less pasta to fit in the pan. But that's what I'm here for, to pass on my hard-won information to you. Despite throwing out a quarter of the pasta, I kept the seasonings and liquids called for. So if you do make this with the entire pound of pasta, you need to up the amounts of garlic and spices and stock. And be prepared to be on your hands and knees mopping the kitchen floor while you mutter angrily to yourself and your boyfriend wonders, safely in the other room, where his lovely girlfriend disappeared to.

Fideua (Spanish Pasta with Seafood)
Serves 4

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fideo or very thin pasta, in 2-inch lengths or shorter
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 pound cockles or small clams, well washed
1 pound mussels, well washed
1/2 cup stock or water
8 to 12 large shrimp, shells on
4 to 8 sea scallops, cut in half through their equators
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Lemon wedges

1. Put oil in a skillet at least 12 inches across (I used this, which wasn't nearly big enough. I'd say you should use the 14-inch version or else this), and turn heat to medium-high. A minute later add noodles; sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring almost constantly, until they darken. Try to avoid letting more than a few pieces blacken.

2. Add saffron, paprika and garlic, and stir for a minute more. Add clams and mussles and about 1/2 cup water or stock and continue to cook, stirring. Depending on how much liquid the clams and mussels release, you may have to add a little more liquid. Continue to cook and stir until the pasta is nearly tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Add shrimp and scallops and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Stir in parsley, taste and adjust seasoning and serve with lemon wedges