One of the things I really love about Seattle is having parsley in February. It spurts forth with a stubbornness even my two-year-old can’t muster, preening through the rain, ignoring our recent “snowstorm.” (The Idahoan in me still can’t call that a real storm.) I like to pick it right after 5 p.m., when people are walking home and watching, because it doesn’t feel as much like bragging when I don’t actually open my mouth. After I bring it inside, I peel off my socks, because I’m forever dreaming that somehow my socks won’t get wet if I run extra fast from the front door to the edge of the garden in the rain with a paring knife in my hand. Then I wash the parsley well, because I can’t seem to trust that someone hasn’t been fertilizing it with some magic chemical when I’m not looking. Finally, it sits on the drying rack, next to the Tupperware, and waits.
Last week, it waited for a clam and chorizo stew I made with Kathy Gunst, when she was visiting. Kathy is my cooking Yoda. She’s not short, and doesn’t have big ears, but since an internship with her ten years ago, it’s her voice I hear when I’m standing in front of the stove, wondering what comes next, or what flavors work together. Over the years, I’ve spent days and days cooking in her kitchen, in Maine, but we’d never really cooked together in mine. I’d forgotten what it’s like to have a real cooking partner. It’s especially convenient when there’s a kid in the house; it’s like having four hands, instead of two, only they really can be in two places at once.
I threw chorizo into a high-sided pan, where it sizzled until a certain someone demanded I play ice cream shop. Kathy floated in, and when I returned, pretend-bloated with ten pretend cones’ worth, the stew was bubbling, ready for clams. When I held the long, steel handle of the pan, just to give the tomatoes a quick shake before adding the wine, the handle was still warm—not from the heating element, but from human touch.
Here’s something you might not know about me: I don’t often cook with other people. I like it well enough, but with the exception of my younger sister, who’s turning into a pretty clutch cook herself, my Seattle tribe consist of people who eat, but who don’t necessarily cook. And so often for me, being in the kitchen means a frazzled dance of stirring and writing and timing and judging, rather than just plain cooking. That warm pan handle reminded me how much enjoying cooking, for me, revolves around touch, instead of just taste.
In the end, the stew was good not just because the chorizo, from Seattle’s Rain Shadow Meats, seemed to have exactly the right amount of pimenton, or because the little Manila clams were gorgeous, or because I added the right amount of parsley. It was good because it made me remember that more than any book, or my upbringing, or even culinary school, Kathy’s two hands—the ones that had picked up cooking just where I’d left off, so seamlessly, mid-stew—are the hands that taught me to cook.
Clams with Chorizo, Chickpeas, and Parsley (PDF)
It’s a simple enough dish to make, but loaded into bowls and served with good, crusty bread, this meal has the ability to transport—to Spain, for starters, with that smoky pimentón flavor, and then to the sea, because when the clams cook in tomatoes and wine, they release their briny juices right into the dish’s liquid. If you want this to be more of a stew, add eight ounces of clam juice along with the wine.
Look for pimentón de la vera in the spice section of a large grocery store, or online. Do not substitute regular paprika.
Time: 30 minutes active time
Serves: 2, or 4 with a hearty salad
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo, casings removed, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 medium leek, chopped (white and light green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (high-quality smoky Spanish paprika)
1 cup dry white wine
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 pound clean Manila clams
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
Heat a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the chorizo, and cook for about 7 minutes, stirring just once or twice, or until the chorizo is partly cooked but loose on the pan. Add the leek and garlic (and a swirl of additional olive oil, if the pan is still dry), and cook another 5 minutes, until the leek is soft. Stir in salt and pepper to taste and the pimentón de la vera. Add the tomatoes and wine, and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.
Add the chickpeas and clams, cover the pan, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until all the clams have opened. (Discard any unopened clams.) Stir in the parsley, season to taste, and serve piping hot, with crusty bread for dipping or over soft polenta.