Simple Art of Cooking: Classic Dishes for the Best of Times

soup with seafood
Seafood stew. Photo credit: al62/iStock/Thinkstock

It’s that time of the year when the holiday spirit is everywhere, with the colorful lights of the season and with the magical displays wherever you look inspiring one to want to share seasonal joys. A small festive dinner is a fine way of extending holiday warmth.

The Night of the Seven Fishes is celebrated on Christmas Eve, and I can’t think of a more appropriate dish than the following do-ahead shellfish stew. It can be almost entirely prepped the day before, except for de-bearding the mussels, and the stew can easily accommodate different kinds of fish.

New Year’s Eve calls for something festive such as a standing rib roast. Simply season with a dry rub of paprika, coarse salt and garlic to serve with shallot confit. Timing is manageable at about 18 minutes to the pound for a rare to medium rare fork tender, mouthwatering roast.

And a happy holiday to all!

Prepare a classic fish stock ahead and freeze or refrigerate. Prep your fresh fish and shellfish and the stew can be ready in short order.

Serves 6 to 8

1 dozen Little Neck clams
1 dozen large shrimp
1/2 pound large sea scallops
1 pound white-flesh fish, cod, sea bass, monkfish
1 dozen mussels
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 bulb fennel, trimmed, cored, rinsed and cut into julienne strips
1 large leek, trimmed, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
6 cups fish stock, preferably homemade
1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes (crushed) with juice
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped, flat leaf Italian parsley
Pinch saffron
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Scrub the clams in cold tap water until sand is removed. Peel and devein shrimp. Remove side muscle from scallops and discard. Cut white flesh fish into 1 ½-inch pieces. Refrigerate the prepped fish up to one day ahead, loosely covered with a damp towel over a bag of ice, until needed. For the mussels, de-beard a few hours before cooking, as the beard is the lifeline of the mussels.

2. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add shallots and garlic and sauté briefly. Add carrot, fennel and leek and toss to coat. Cover and cook over low heat for 6 to 7 minutes. Add white wine, bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add fish stock, crushed tomatoes, herbs and saffron and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Season fish broth with salt and pepper to taste. The broth may be prepared up to one day ahead. Refrigerate, covered, in a suitable container.

3. If fish broth was refrigerated, bring to room temperature and transfer to a saucepan large enough to hold the remaining ingredients. Fish should also be at room temperature. Bring broth to a simmer. Add shellfish and cook with cover ajar for 3 to 4 minutes. Add white-flesh fish and fennel and cook with cover ajar for 3 to 4 minutes longer or until fish is opaque and shellfish opens. Remove from heat and serve at once with slices of crusty bread.

A fine quality standing rib roast has a border of creamy white fat surrounding cherry red beef, unmarred by large fatty pockets. It’s a once-in-a great-while indulgence.

Serves 6 to 8

For the shallot confit
1/2 pound shallots, peeled and halved
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup ruby port
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon sugar

For the roast
4 pound first cut standing rib roast (2 to 3 ribs) trimmed of excess fat
2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 350°

1. Combine ingredients for the confit in a small shallow baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer or until shallots are tender and liquid is almost completely evaporated. Can be prepared up to a day ahead, Refrigerate covered in a suitable container.

2. In a mixing bowl combine garlic, paprika and salt. And stir to mix. Rub seasoning over the top and sides of the meat massaging it well. Refrigerate, tented with plastic wrap, 3 to 4 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

3. Stand roast in a sturdy roasting pan, (the bones act as a natural rack) and roast for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F and roast 18 to 20 minutes to the pound until medium rare or 125°F to 130°F on an instant meat thermometer when inserted into the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone. Allow meat to rest with a tent of foil for 15 minutes before carving. Bring shallot confit to room temperature, reheat and serve with the roast.

Note: With a sharp carving knife, cut the eye of the roast, scraping away from the bones in one piece. Stand roast on the carving board and cut into slices then slice through bones. Serve with shallot confit.

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