Thursday, September 2, 2010

South Philly: A Wonderland of Gastronomical Delight

My neighborhood is pretty great. Its dour parking scenarios have forced me to become an expert in parallel parking. Its public high school makes headlines. And ensuring no shortage free entertainment, its methadone clinic boasts a cast of junkies who squabble hilariously in the streets.

How can a living situation get any better you ask? Well, there's the Italians of South Philly, who for generations have fostered (in all seriousness) an excellent culture of cuisine. Walking down the street, your nose might delight in a sample of delicious Italian cooking wafting from someone's kitchen or the many hole-in-the-wall restaurants. And even better still, on nearly every corner, there's an Italian bakery, a fresh pasta maker, an Italian deli, a butcher, or a sausage maker.

At the core of this wonderland of gastronomical delight is the 9th Street Italian Market. Here you'll find a heavenly host of fresh produce vendors, cheese mongers, fish mongers, spice traders and suppliers of any other culinary necessity you can name.

The Italian Market's variety of foodstuffs alone is stunning, but what floors me every time are the prices. Today, for instance, I sauntered over with a 20-dollar-bill and picked up the ingredients to make this:

...and still had a few singles left over. I call it "Scampi Overdrive," and humbly consider it a smashing success. Alright, recipe time.

  • 1/2 lb large shrimp
  • 1 lb bluefish
  • 1 lb fresh Jersey tomatoes
  • 1 lb medium mushrooms
  • approx 2/3 lb fresh spinach spaghetti
  • Chablis wine, 12 count...maybe 3 cups?
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • herbs (thyme, basil oregano in an approx 2:2:1 ratio)
  • salt and pepper

I sauteed the mushrooms ahead of time, chopping them down and cooking them with a 1/4 cup of butter, a splash of Chablis and good portion of salt and pepper. While they were working I put on a pot of water to cook the fresh pasta. You only have to boil fresh pasta for about 2min per pound, so after cooking, I let it chill in a colander until my sauce was ready.

I began the sauce (a simple buerre-blanc) by roasting garlic in about 1/4 cup of butter and lemon juice in a large sauce-pan. Before the butter browned, I added a 12-count of Chablis and liberally applied my herbs and salt and pepper. After allowing the wine to reduce for a few minutes, I added the shrimp and bluefish, which I had cut down into bite-sized morsels beforehand. I then diced and threw in the tomatoes.

After I was satisfied with the flavor of my sauce (had to add more garlic), I threw in my spinach spaghetti and gave the pan a few flips. To complete the dish I melted in another 1/4 butter.


Bangin'. The sauce worked out wonderfully; it was light, sweet and zesty, just as a good scampi should be. It definitely had that flavorful allure that compels one to sop up the remnants with bread, or perhaps suck it down with a straw. Regrettably, having neither of these utensils, I washed the sauce left on my plate down the drain.

The mushrooms were nice and buttery and worked to accent the buttery character of the sauce. The seafood, I must however confess, was slightly overdone; the bluefish bites broke down into flaky bits similar to (but more flavorful than) canned tuna. The shrimp had a tougher texture not unlike pork. The lesson I'll take from this: wait longer to add the seafood.

My favorite part of this dish was the pasta. Fresh pasta, though substantially more expensive than the brittle junk that comes in boxes, is totally worth the price. It is so much more soft, tender and moist than its supermarket counterpart. Man, and adding earthy-notes of spinach to my dish... the pasta was awesome.

...I think I'm ready for a second helping.

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