All around Little Italy in the Bronx, hard biscuits are for sale, either behind the counter at bread bakeries, or in packages, imported from Italy. Sometimes they look like very stale bagels, other times they are small and hard and easily able to break your teeth. But these magical biscuits called friselle are not stale, but twice baked bread that you'll want to keep handy in your pantry.
The friselle that look like hard bagels are ideal for putting in the bottom of a bowl of soup -- think a hearty minestrone soup on a cold winter's night. The biscuit softens, but doesn't become mushy, kind of like a giant crouton.
The packaged friselle imported from Italy are ideal for panzanella or bread salad. In the Cilento region of Southern Italy where Christian and I lead our food and wine tours, they call this aquasale. Take a slice and hold it underneath the water tap for 3-5 seconds until you can snap it apart. Break apart the pieces and mix in chopped tomatoes, red onions and extra virgin olive oil.
The black pepper friselle you'll find at Addeo Bakers are a little different from as these are made with lard. They are the ideal accompaniment for a seafood stew like this quick and easy clam and potato stew. Make this for your Seven Fishes Christmas Eve feast!
Clam, potatoes and black pepper friselle
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
3 anchovy fillets, I like the Agostino Recca Sicilian anchovies packed with spicy red pepper
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into half inch cubes
4 lbs of small clams called vongole, well rinsed in a colander with cold water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
8 black pepper and lard friselle biscuits from Addeo Bakers.
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil, garlic and anchovies over a low flame. Push the anchovies around slowly with a wooden spoon until they dissolve completely into the oil, about 2 minutes.
Raise the flame to medium-low. Add the potatoes and distribute across the surface of the pan so they become well coated with the anchovy infused olive oil The garlic will start to glisten as it softens and the potatoes will begin to lightly brown on the edges, about 5 minutes.
Raise the flame to medium-high, add the clams, a small glass of warm water, then cover with the pan's lid. Shake the pan a few times to distribute the clams across the pan's surface.
Wait about three minutes and peek inside to see that the clams are opening. (Leave covered if they require more time.) Once the clams have all opened, add the lemon juice. Stir everything together with a wooden spoon to combine all the flavors into the broth that has come together during cooking.
Prepare 4 shallow soup bowls with 2 biscuits in the center of each one. Use a soup ladle to spoon the clam and potato stew with a bit of broth over the biscuits. Sprinkle the fresh chopped parsley over the top and add an additional squeeze of fresh lemon juice if desired. Eat the friselle last after they have soaked up all the juices and use them to clean your plate.
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