For the benefit of my foreigner friends, I am again writing this blog in English.
Over the holidays, I woke up feeling grouchy and quickly got my TV remote control hoping to see something uplifting on cable TV. Less than a minute, I instantly got my answer when I switched to the Discovery Travel and Lifestyle Channel and found the British chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver slicing parsely on a huge chopping board. There, in the middle of the shores of what looks like a bucolic Italian seaside, Oliver was whipping up a dish which he describes as part of the traditional Neapolitan cuisine–the spaghetti alle vongole, or spaghetti in clams. The 38-year-old home economics graduate from Essex, England made the preparation look so easy that halfway through the program, while he was describing in his thick British accent how popular vongole is in Venice and other Italian regions, I vowed to cook vongole for dinner. With a pen and paper, I carefully took notes. Later, I replayed parts of the said show on youtube so I can memorize the procedure. Then I rolled up my sleeves and started to work.
Shopping for ingredients wasn’t that difficult. In the newly opened Luzhiong supermarket, which is just a walking distance from my house, I bought a pack of spaghetti pasta, a kilo of clams, flat-leaf parsely, cherry tomatoes, garlic, onions and a bottle of French white wine. In the kitchen, while I took out the ingredients from the grocery bag, I went online again and re-watched Oliver in youtube, just to make sure I didn’t miss a single procedure. Then I headed towards my most dreaded part of cooking–the peeling and slicing of garlic, onions and tomatoes. But I was in a cheerful mood and felt I was in my cooking element so the dreadful feeling quickly disappeared. I boiled water, put in some salt and drops of olive oil and slid in the packet of spaghetti. After 12 minutes, I drained the pasta and put it aside.
Then came the easy and exciting part–the actual cooking of the ingredients, where the fresh flavors pop up with the introduction of fire and oil and the process of alchemy happened when the garlic turned from white to golden brown, the onions were caramelized and were joined in by the merry mix of of sweet cherry tomatoes. Stirred constantly with a liberal sprinkling of sea salt and pepper, I vividly recalled and followed to the letter Oliver’s instructions, as written in his website: “Stir everything around constantly and just as the garlic starts to color, tip in the clams and pour in the wine. It will splutter and steam, so give everything a good shake and put the lid on the pan. After about 3 or 4 minutes the clams will start to open, so keep shuffling the pan around until all of them have opened. Take the pan off the heat.”
As soon as the taste of my newly created clam sauce touched my tastebuds, I was reminded again why I really enjoy cooking. Just like writing, it’s a creative process that you get yourself lost into. You experience both agony and ecstacy and you never get to predict the exact ending because there’s always that element of surprise that kicks in just before you turn off the stove or in the case of writing, pound that last period in the keyboard.
Modesty aside, I found my vongole delicious that’s why I decided to share my new found joy with my friends. I gatheredall of them last Saturday in my place and happily repeated the whole process again–not just once but twice (more friends started coming so I had to cook a new batch). And guess what? We finished everything. Of course there was beer and wine and chips and peanuts which added life to our wonderful conversations but we ended the evening on a lovely note. Something about this coming December which we are so looking forward to. No spoliers here except that from now on, I will always remember and associate my vongole with midnight candlelights, a dash of romance and the yummy aftertaste of fresh clams.