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Cherrystone Clams, Mussels and Spicy Sausage

Two years ago, when Frank and I were suddenly looking for a home to buy due to extenuating circumstances, one thing was certain. We wanted outdoor space. Above any other item on the must-have list, outdoor space was essential. And trust me on this one, non-New Yorkers: real estate in this city is off-the-wall bonkerstown. Normal necessities in life take a magical turn here – washers and dryers, closets, parking, being able to sit somewhere outdoors without first having to buy a five dollar espresso. If you can find all of these things in one home, why, then, you are at least a millionaire.

The problem began at the old rental. We had a private roof deck! We had a grill, pretty party lights strung high in the air, and friends next door whose section of the roof was next to ours! It was perfect. (Aside from the boot prints on the furniture and smashed bulbs that time thieves broke into the building from the roof. Not cool, robbers. Not cool.)

Once we were thrown back into the market, it sucked (sorry for the wording, Mom, but it did). Here is a pretty accurate description of our buying process: nightmare, shock, ulcers, endless toast for dinner, crying, poor, confusion and more toast for dinner. Sound stressful? It was.

Low and behold, however, we hung on by a thread and found a place, with our pinched pennies and some borrowed ones as well. Since I didn’t mention the word millionaire when describing our process, our home doesn’t include parking or storage space (like, zilch), but we scored a ratty old washer set and…outside space! Rather than riding an elevator up to a nicely sized roof deck, we’ve got ourselves a small terrace that juts off the living room. Frank laid down proper decking on top of the concrete slab, there’s room enough for a little seating, a garden of herbs and flowers, and most importantly, a grill. We love it. A neighbor’s tree bends over the property to provide greenery, and we’ve got a great view of someone else’s deck across the way, people who I pretend to know.

But back to the grill. We went old school charcoal, replacing the gas grill for both safety reasons and building rules. Grilling season is just about any time there isn’t snow or rain happening outside, so we take advantage whenever we can. This past Friday, we wanted something on the light side, as we knew Saturday was crowded with an afternoon picnic with the new baby downstairs and then a big dinner with friends. Once I saw this recipe floating around the internet, the decision was easy.

The butcher didn’t have any chorizo for me, but there was some gorgeous-looking hot Italian sausage. I also expanded my shopping list to include mussels and fresh English peas, because hey, why not? I like sneaking peas into dishes. I must have Sicilian lineage somewhere, because I like using peas as much as those nonnas living a stone’s throw from Mount Etna. Besides, just because I see a photo of a recipe, doesn’t mean I’ll always read it. (I didn’t.)

Not always reading up on something can get me in trouble. For instance, while I was at the seafood counter, I noticed oysters were selling at a particularly low price, so I bought six. Surely they would pop open on the grill alongside the cherrystones and mussels? Not the case, my man informed me as we stared them down while setting up the evening’s cheeseboard. Great. Now I had spent $7.50 on oysters and had shucked a total of none to date. Without a proper shucking knife or experience doing this before, I can proudly sit here with all ten fingers and the memory of a few bivalves devoured before they could even reach the grill.

Dinner prep went pretty smoothly after that. I quickly sautéed two finely chopped garlic scapes and a small shallot in butter, seasoned. I uncased two of the sausage links and crumbled them into the pan, then added a glug of chicken stock. Another round of seasoning, a touch more butter and that sauce was smelling amazing. I cranked out thyme-infused linguini and Frank was ready to start grilling the shellfish. Except…well, it didn’t happen! All this talk about grilling and there’s no grill session to this story! One of the downsides to having a charcoal grill high up in the air is that once a brisk wind picks up, it’s pretty difficult to keep that baby lit. A summer storm was dying to open up on Friday night, and by the time we were ready to grill, it just wasn’t going to happen.

So instead I spread the mussels and clams into the saucepan and covered it completely to steam them open. Our batch was great - everyone had popped.* I added the peas, newly freed from their pods, and then covered the whole concoction with an array of fresh herbs – parsley, mint and chives. One last seasoning of salt and pepper, a squeeze of fresh lemon and these guys were ready.

The photo on the recipe was a spectacular inspiration for our dinner. The sausage was so fresh that it just melted into the sauce and the mollusks were steamed to perfection. The peas provided a nice flavor and the herbs, particularly the mint, stood out. Perhaps this post didn’t include the grill, but with herbs straight from my garden, a lovely breeze waltzing through the open French doors and a view that competes with the best of them (in my opinion, anyway), our outside space clearly contributed to the meal.

Stay tuned for the next one, when this guy takes us to the charcoal!

*Mollusks are easy to cook, and quickly. Once your sauce is ready, simply place them in the pan and cover. Give them a few minutes on their own. When you take the lid off, they should have opened up. Discard any that haven't opened - they aren't fresh to eat.

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