Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rhode Island

This meal, for the smallest state in the Union, required a bit of research. We were surprised to learn that there are so many unique foods in Rhode Island. I guess when you're the "little guy," you work hard to set yourself apart. Not only do the contrary folk there insist on calling a milkshake a "cabinet," their favorite flavor is coffee. "Coffee Milk" is the state's official beverage and hot dogs are served like nowhere else in the country: a veal/pork weiner, topped with a hearty meat sauce.

Another Rhode Island standard is clam cakes and chowder. The chowder, however, is "clear chowder," no milk or tomatoes, just seafood and vegetables. We had originally planned to prepare clam cakes and chowder, but after last night's fried catfish binge, a clam fritter sounded less than appetizing. Instead, we opted for another Rhode Island classic--spinach pies. Lucy was disappointed that we wouldn't be trying the chowder (I found this surprising, since she usually deems soup only a step above dirt and grass in terms of it's edibility). So, I made the chowder too.

The spinach pie is basically a calzone, but without sauce. Some recipes included cheese (mozzerella and/or ricotta), some didn't. We like cheese, so in it went! For the filling I sauteed a small amount (about 1/4 cup) of minced onion and 2 minced garlic cloves in olive oil. I thawed one 10 oz box of spinach and squeezed out the excess water, then added it to the onion and garlic. I finished it with a bit of salt, pepper and fresh nutmeg. After the mixture cooled a little bit, I added a couple of spoonfuls of ricotta cheese and 1/2-3/4 cup of grated mozzerella cheese.

Marc made a basic, white dough pizza crust. You could easily buy prepared crust if you prefer. He cut it four portions and rolled it out thinly before filling and folding it all together.

The folded pies were brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. We pre-heated a pizza stone in a 475 degree oven and baked these for about 20 minutes. Golden-brown-and-delicious, indeed!

These were big--next time we will probably cut the dough into 8 portions and make smaller, hand-held pies.

And, for the soup. This recipe came from the book Real American Food by Jane and Michael Stern. This "clear" chowder is a Rhode Island classic:

"Dovecrest Quahog Chowder"
1/4 lb salt pork, diced (I used bacon)
1 large onion, diced
2 large potatoes, diced (2 heaping cups)
2 cups water
2 cups very finely diced shucked quahog clams (uh, yeah, you can't get that in Iowa. I used canned)
2 cups clam juice
2 T butter

In a stockpot, fry salt pork until fat is rendered. Add diced onion and cook until light brown. Add diced potatoes and just enough of the water to cover. Cook until potatoes are pierced easily with a fork. Add quahogs, clam juice, butter, and remaining water. Simmer 15-20 minutes.

The authors note that the soup is better the second day--after being refrigerated and reheated.

So, how did it go, you ask? The spinach pie was a big hit with the adults and Maia and Lucy agreed that it was "OK." ("OK" seems to be code for, "I'll eat it, I kind of like it but won't admit it, but don't make me eat it every day.") The soup was less popular, to say the least. Both Marc and I agreed that it needed more flavor--more salt for one, and it would have improved had I added some herbs. Lucy took a tiny bite and said it was awful (remember that she was the one who insisted I make it?). Maia was the most positive, she said it was fine, though she didn't like the potatoes. This was something that put us all out of our culinary comfort zones a bit--not a bad thing.

Next up: Louisiana!


  1. I loved your description of Lucy's ideas about soup! Very funny.
    The calzones look good and I can imagine trying those.
    Pictures were great, as usual. Made me hungry.
    Funny how we never think about Rhode Island. At least I never do.

  2. I've had spinach pies and coffee milk in Rhode Island. Yum yum. Excellent research on your part.