I've spent the past few weeks testing authentic Dominican Rebublic recipes for a work event that took place last weekend. Testing recipes has a special meaning in our home. As usual, the testings turned into several Dominican suppers for Michael and me. Thankfully, he was a good sport about our Caribbean culinary journey. Pollo Chicherones (lime-marinated double fried chicken), Pollo Guisada (soffrito-spiced stewed chicken), tostones, rice, and beans became our temporary new norm. While tatsy, after weeks of eating our way through their unique and delicious cuisine, we needed a change of pace. Big time.
I still had a gorgeous Stripetti spaghetti squash from Elmwood Farm plopped inside a giant wooden bowl on our kitchen countertop. Although we adore straight-up roasted and buttered spaghetti squash, I wanted to put a new spin on it, so I used a dozen small littleneck clams and threw together a riff on spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams......or, spaghetti squash with clams).
After preheating the oven to 350 degrees, I halved the squash, scooped out the seeds, brushed the flesh with olive oil, seasoned it with salt & pepper, and placed the squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet before sliding them into the oven to roast for an hour.
While the squash baked, I diced a 1/3 cup red bell pepper, 1/3 cup green bell pepper, and 1 small shallot into small diagonals before setting them aside. After a couple of glases of wine, I played around with a few meyer lemons. Shellfish. Lemons. No brainer. I wanted more. I wanted contrasting textures and layers of lemon flavor, so I thinly sliced three meyer lemons into wheels before slicing one into half moons and setting it aside for a bright acidic garnish. After cranking the deep fryer to 375 degrees, I lightly dusted the remaining lemon wheels with cornstarch and fried them until golden brown. Sea salt and fresh parsley flecks finished them off.
I wanted another depth of salty crunch for the steamed clams. Although crispy fried bacon was the obvious choice, I had a few leftover shavings of Browning's Country Ham tucked away in the meat drawer of the refigerator that I picked up at the Kentucky Proud Market during one of my many trips through the Lexington Civic Center last week. Perfect. I julienned the ham shavings and baked them alongside the squash for 10 minutes until they morphed into glistening country ham brittle. Perfect.
After an hour, I pulled the spaghetti squash from the oven and used a fork to scrape the delicate threads from the halved shells before tossing them with melted unsalted butter.
While the squash absorbed its sweet butter bath, I melted 2 tablespoons of butter into an equal amount of olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. When the butter started to brown a bit, I tossed the reserved peppers and shallots into the sizzling butter/oil combination. After they softened, I added 2 tablespoons of minced garlic and deglazed the pan with 1 cup of white wine. When the wine reduced by 1/2, I spiked it with 1 cup of bottled clam juice and tumbled the tiny littleneck clams into the boiling stock. I showered the clams with fresh meyer lemon juice, fresh parsley, and (on a whim) split grape tomatoes before covering them to steam open.
Within seconds, the briny clams opened their shells upward, revealing their plump sexy meat. Annointed with flavor, I pulled them from the heat.
After twirling the spaghetti squash into large pasta bowls, I placed the steamed clams around the squash and bathed them with the aromatic stock. After nestling the fried lemon wheels between the clams, I scattered minced fresh red and green bell peppers over them to mimic and contrast their sauteed counterparts. To gild the lily, I crumbled the country ham brittle onto each splayed juicy clam.
The clams were sweet and tender. They exploded with flavor, squirting briny juices that mixed with the bright lemony luscious stock. Bits of crisped ham added crunch and saltiness while the peppers provided tiny bursts of wet freshness. The spaghetti squash, bathed with stock, was perfect. The strands were delicate and light, yet bold enough to retain thier integrity after being slathered and scattered with an array of wonderful crazy ingredients.