Susur Lee's Chinese-Style Paella
Serves 2 as an appetizer
1 medium butternut squash
3 cups packed baby spinach, washed
2 Chinese sausage links
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin oil
2 pounds small clams, like count-necks, cleaned
1 cup TY KU Soju*
1 tablespoon grated ginger
5 ounces fresh fettuccini, cut into 1/3-inch pieces
3 leaves lemon verbena, fine sliced plus a sprig for garnish
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ tablespoon sweet potato starch
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Have a steamer set over simmering water. Using a sharp peeler, peel the bottom portion of the squash. Remove a thin sliver off the bottom to level it, and make a cut about 1 ½-inches up from the bottom to form a small cup. Remove the seeds and pulp. Reserve the remaining squash for another use. Salt the squash cup, and add it to the steamer with the baby spinach and sausage. Steam the spinach for about 2 minutes, then remove it, shock in an ice bath, and squeeze out the excess moisture. Roughly chop the spinach and reserve.
Continue steaming the squash cup and sausage for a total of 15 minutes. Remove and slice one link of sausage into ¼-inch rounds slices. Quarter the remaining sausage lengthwise and then slice on the bias into ½-length diamond-shaped pieces. Reserve separately.
Meanwhile, place the garlic cloves in a sandwich bag, and smash them with the side of a knife, to release their oils. In a medium sauté pan add the olive oil, then add the smashed garlic, sautéing for 30 seconds until lightly browned and fragrant. Add the clams, sauté for about 15 seconds. Deglaze with the Soju and cover the pan. After about 3 minutes, remove the lid, add the ginger and tip the pan away from you to flambé. Cover again and cook the clams for about 10 additional minutes until they open. Strain the clams into a sieve, reserving clam juice. Remove the clam meat from all but two shells, chop and reserve the meat.
In boiling salted water, cook the fettuccini for 2 minutes, stirring to break it up. Drain, cool in an ice water bath, drain and reserve.
In the same medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add about half the reserved clam juice, the cooked pasta, the spinach, the 1/4-inch sausage slices, and chopped clams. Season with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Bring to a simmer. Add the lemon verbena and the grated nutmeg.
Make a slurry with the sweet potato starch, combining the starch with 1 tablespoon of water. Make sure the pasta mixture is at a simmer and whisk in the slurry. Cook until slightly thickened, about 15 seconds and remove from the heat.
To Plate: Place the steamed squash cup in a shallow bowl. Fill the cup with the pasta mixture. Garnish with sausage diamonds and two reserved whole clams. Pour the reserved clam juice around the outside of the cup. Garnish with a whole sprig of lemon verbena.
*Soju is a distilled Korean beverage, similar in taste to vodka.