When in Rome, eat like the Romans do. Or, in my case, like a Oregonian. Although, admittedly, I have no idea if there is a typical Oregonian dish. What I do know is that, in this part of the world, the South Coast of Oregon, the fish is fresh and abundant. None of that sorry-looking farm-raised tilapia from Vietnam that makes me gag every time I spot it at the market. Or anything off the coast of Santa Barbara, probably polluted by nearby Los Angeles.
It’s been a week of doing nothing much in Bandon, Oregon. Exactly what I had in mind. My interest in boating, fishing, cycling or canoeing is at an all time low (ok, it was never there to begin with), so I am left with the view outside the window of our rented house on the Coquille River, long walks with the dogs and some hiking to burn off the food I don’t seem able to stop cooking.
For years, every vacation of a week or more has seen me renting a house or a flat somewhere. Even if the Four Seasons were a financial possibility, the thought of having to eat three meals a day prepared in a professional kitchen is not appealing any longer. I want to have my bowl of cereal when the mood strikes me – plus, it’s a lot more fun to discover the local market in Rome, buy soup from the corner store in London, barbecue in Hawaii or cook my own fresh off the boat fish in Oregon.
Usually, rentals, even those where the owners occasionally spend some time (most of my rentals came from vrbo.com) come with kitchens equipped with the bare necessities – but one learns to make do. Cooks who spend their time at Williams-Sonoma and fill their houses with gadgets, always give me pause. It’s not the gadget that will enhance the quality of the food: a decently sharpened knife, persistence and passion will. Some of the most delicious meals in my life have come out of my mother’s kitchen, which is the size of a postage stamp, and the most modern gadget is a toaster from the ‘80s.
One thing that struck home while wandering around Bandon week-end farmer’s market (more like a bunch of people selling vegetables from their little plots and eggs from their chickens) and tooling around the docks of a charmless fishing village called Charleston, is that, if you start with a fine ingredient, there is absolutely no reason to mess with it.
“The salmon came off the fishing boat yesterday morning. It’s this guy I know who only goes out for the day, so the fish does not stay frozen at sea for days” the lady who cut me a large piece of salmon told me.
“The halibut is from my boat and the crab from my father in law’s” the fisherman who sold me both elucidated.
And then there was the couple who raised cattle with their son, a few miles away – completely grass-fed, never finished with corn and definitely no hormones or antibiotics. And off the tenderloin fell in my bag. With the eggs from the lady who asked me to bring back the carton “My chickens are so fertile, I can’t keep up!”, and the heirloom speckled lettuce I had never seen before or the blueberries that “you don’t need to wash. No pesticides”.
It’s easy to get inspired with so much nice food at hand. The salmon went in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper and some thyme from the house owner’s garden (thank you Amanda). Accompanied by rosemary (from the same garden) roasted potatoes and the heirloom lettuce, it was a feast.
The mountain of stone fruit and berries was partly cut and made into an impromptu crisp that worked for dinner and breakfast. And the two large crabs yielded enough meat for both my favourite crab pasta and a crab salad.
To top it all off, the owner of the house I rented happens to be a chef. An absolute godsend. I could make muffins, crepes or cakes if I so wished – there is even a small Cuisine art, a nut cracker and a pan scraper. Which is why it must have been such a pleasure to cook here, looking out over the river, eating on the porch and falling into a stuporous nap. Until it was time to do it all over again.
ITALIAN CRAB PASTA WITH OREGON CRAB
Crab meat from the inside of a crab, rather that the inside of a tin, does make all the difference. Pulling the meat out is a bit tedious but really easy, especially on medium-sized crabs, whose shell is easy to break with your hands.
Crab meat from two medium to large-sized crabs, cooked (most fish markets will sell you cooked meat)
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 T olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed with the back of a knife
1 ts of red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 T butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound of short and twisty pasta or linguine
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the onion. Cook until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so.
- Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 5/7 minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down. Remove the garlic.
- Add the crab meat, one tablespoon of butter and cook for five more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt heavily. Add the pasta once the water is boiling and cook until al dente. Drain.
- Put the pasta back in the pan, add the crab sauce and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Mix and serve.
If fresh crab meat is not an option where you are, here is a good tinned crab recipe from sofagirl