Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pasta with Fresh Clams

(serves two adults and two children)

The quality of this dish depends entirely on the quality of the clams. That’s why I usually make it only when I’m on Cape Cod, where my family vacations in August. If there isn’t a good fish store near you, and all you can get are mangy supermarket clams, you’ve got two choices: Either mail-order the real deal from my friends, Pat and Barbara Woodbury, at; or use canned clams to make the lesser but still tasty Spaghetti with Clam Sauce recipe posted elsewhere on this blog. Ordering from Pat and Barbara is a treat, of course, but well worth the cost for a special occasion.

36 littleneck clams (see note below)
2 oz pancetta (or bacon)
6 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley
1 lb dried pasta (spaghetti or linguine)
¼ c olive oil
1½ c dry white wine
3 Tbs unsalted butter
red pepper flakes, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Wash and dry the clams. Dice the pancetta. Coarsely chop the garlic and parsley.

2. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until just barely done. Drain and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven (or a large skillet fitted with a lid), heat the olive oil over a medium-low flame. After a few minutes, add the clams and raise the flame to medium-high. Cover and cook until the first clams open, which means they are done. Transfer the opened clams to a bowl tented with aluminum foil Add the white wine and butter. Continue cooking the remaining clams, covered, until they open, removing them from the pan as they do.

4. When all the clams have been removed, add the garlic, parsley, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Simmer the sauce for a minute or two, then add the drained pasta. Toss the pasta to coat and continue cooking for another 2–3 minute so that the pasta can absorb the sauce.

5. Serve the pasta topped with the reserved clams and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

The most commonly available hardshell clams are littlenecks, cherrystones, and quahogs. They’re all the same species; the only difference is size. Of these, littlenecks are the smallest and most tender. These are the ones that you want, though cherrystones will do in a pinch (use half as many). Under no circumstances should you use quahogs, which are chowder clams.

• Monitor the clams closely because they become very chewy when overcooked. I lift the lid every minute or two to check for newly opened clams.

• I use a full teaspoon of red pepper flakes because I like my clam sauce to have some kick to it.

• Don’t skimp on the wine or the parmesan because poor grades will ruin the delicate flavor of the clams. I never cook with a wine that I wouldn’t drink with dinner, and I always use imported Parmigiano-Reggiano. Even if you have to pay $16 a pound for the cheese, the couple of ounces you need will only set you back $2.

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