This recipe is a version of one my mother used to cook in the summertime. It’s meant to be eaten outside with family in the fading sun, back then with a glass of milk, now with friends and a glass of chilled white wine. This dish was full of summer’s bounty – freshly picked parsley, fragrant cherry tomatoes, garlic from the nearby farm and local littleneck clams. I remember the clammy briny flavor and the sweetness of the tomatoes. I loved the taste but couldn’t stand the texture of the clams – to my mother’s dismay I would eat around them. Garlic too, I adored the smell but couldn’t stand getting a chunk of it in my pasta. I wanted it smashed, mashed, pressed just not chopped or sliced. And the parsley…my mother would say “What’s wrong with Parsley?!!” I didn’t have an answer, it was just too…too…something, it was too something and could you please add it to the pasta after I’ve served myself, please? I was a silly silly child. Too picky for my own good, a trait that I’ve mostly grown out of. If I could have all those uneaten clams now I would feast on them for days, I would eat a garlic clove whole, I would use all that parsley and make some pesto…
Today I live halfway across the country, but my parents still live in a coastal town in the Northeast. Nearly every time I go home I ask for clams – I am lucky enough to have a mother who takes requests. Clams grilled, clams raw in a half shell, baked clams, clams with linguine – with garlic and parsley. Every time I visit I look forward to when I can ask her “Can we go to the seafood store now?” She may tire of the menu, but thankfully she doesn’t tire of my enthusiasm. I’ve carefully watched her over the years to see how she makes her “linguine alle vongole” asking way too many questions and always standing next to her in the kitchen watching them cook, waiting to tap on them and willing them to open – because I was ready to eat!
I’ve been making my own version for a few years now. I use big slices of garlic, lots of parsley and more than enough clams – I’m always worried there won’t be enough. Often as I stand in my own kitchen and prepare this dish I think it’s funny how I’ve come to adore it and wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Summer Clam Pasta PRINT RECIPE
[Prep: 15 minutes / Cooking: 25 / TOTAL: 40 minutes]
[Serves 4 dinner sized portions]
The clams should be in the fridge - preferably just brought home from the store and sitting in a bowl. A few things to know about clams, they should come chip free and tightly closed. If you see any clams that are open you should try tapping them - if they close they are still alive and safe to cook, if they stay open, even just a little, you should throw them out. When you are in the supermarket or seafood store you can always ask if there's a fresher batch in the back - the person helping you should also be looking for cracked or open clams. When you are ready to start prepping the meal take the clams out and fill the bowl with cold fresh water. Let them sit for 20 minutes. This will cause them to spit out any sand or grit that they have inside their shells. Most clams won't come covered in barnacles so they just need a good rinse with a firm brush right before they're cooked.
While the water is heating up you should start prepping the other ingredients. Rinse the cherry tomatoes in a strainer and slice them lengthwise. Peel and thinly slice the garlic. If peeling the garlic is a little tricky try flipping the blade of your knife so that it’s plane is parallel to that of the cutting board, lay it on top of the unpeeled garlic and push down on the blade with the heel of your hand. The garlic should split and the peel will be easy to pull off. Pull off all of the parsley leaves [it’s a personal preference, I don’t like the taste of the stems] and roughly chop them up. Your prepping is done.
The water for the pasta should be boiling by this point [if not keep an eye out for it during the next steps]. Usually this recipe calls for linguine, but I had some fettuccine on hand. This type of pasta will take about 8 minutes to cook al dente. We want this pasta al dente [slightly undercooked so that it still has a bite to it] because we will be adding it to the sauce at the end where it will cook for a little while longer. Make sure to set the timer since it is easy to get distracted
Put a large skillet over medium-high heat [this should be at least 2 inches deep to accommodate all of the ingredients at the end]. Let it to heat up for about 1 minute and then add the 1/3 cup olive oil. Wait another minute and then add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute or wait for the garlic to turn golden. [If you have any anchovies or clam juice on hand, this is when I would add it and cook for 1 minute.] Now add the ½ cup dry white wine and let it cook off for another minute – the sauce at this point should be at a rolling boil. Add the cherry tomatoes, the 1 teaspoon of salt and about 5 grinds of cracked black pepper [or about 1 teaspoon]. Adjust heat down to medium and let sit for about 2 minutes stirring once or twice. Then cover and let sit for 3 minutes – you don’t want too much of the tomato juice to cook off.
While you are waiting for the tomatoes to cook down a little, check on the pasta [if it’s ready see directions below] and finish cleaning the clams. Take them carefully out of the water – all of the sand or grit will have settled at the bottom and you don’t want to disturb it. You can lay the clams on a dishtowel next to the sink. Run cold water over them and scrub them with a coarse brush – if you don’t have one you can use another dishtowel. As soon as the clams are all clean add them to the sauce and cover. They should take about 5-8 minutes to open – you should check on them a few times and can encourage the clams to open by tapping on them.
The pasta should be done by now or nearly done. I recommend reserving a little bit of the pasta water for the sauce at the end. You can do this by taking a measuring cup – or any cup with a handle – and dipping it into the water carefully, until a about a 1/3 cup collects. You may what to use a potholder to protect your hand from the steam of the boiling water. You can test the pasta by carefully spooning out a noodle [make sure to blow on it!] and biting into it. It should have just a slight bite to it, and a small whitish dot in the center, that’s the part of the pasta that isn’t cooked yet. If it is ready, take the pot - be sure to use potholders since the water will let off a lot of hot steam - and slowly pour the contents into the colander in the sink. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon olive oil over the pasta and mix it around so it doesn’t become stuck together. The cooked pasta can sit like this for a few minutes while the sauce is finishing up.
The drained pasta should be added to the skillet after most of the clams are open. [If by this point there are still some clams that are not open, they should be discarded.] Add the chopped parsley, a splash of olive oil, a little bit of the reserved pasta water and make sure to mix everything well. Turn down the heat a little and let simmer for another 2 minutes. This dish can be served right out of the skillet. I like to add fresh parsley, a few grinds of pepper and some flakes of sea salt right before eating it. Make sure to put a big bowl on the table to catch all the empty shells.
Also, remember that white wine that I used early on in the recipe? - now is a good time to pour a glass and enjoy with dinner…and don’t forget to tear up some pieces of the baguette to help soak up some of the sauce.
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