Thursday, September 15, 2011


On National Linguini Day,

it's time for a Classic...

Linguini with Baby Clams

A staple in virtually every "Italian" restaurant on the planet. So simple and austere in its presentation that it's almost criminal; it's also criminal how so many people screw it up.

Today we're going to do something even more criminal. We're going to use tinned Clams.

Yes, you read that right. Tinned or canned Clams are a great, economical, and easy way to make this dish. Obviously, fresh Clams are the best and most flavorful way to go here, but sometimes we live in land-locked places, or it's a terrible winter night when there's no seafood to be had and all you have is what's in the larder, or you're just dead broke. Regardless, tinned Clams do work well and allow you to perfect your technique for when times are better and you're at your best friend's beach house with a whole bucket of little necks and want to show off your Linguini skills.

So, before you judge, give this a try.

  • One (1) box of dried Linguini, 1 lb. or 500 g.
INGREDIENT NOTE : Dried pasta is the traditional and best way to make this dish. I find that fresh pasta is just that, too fresh. The fresh pasta doesn't have the ability to absorb the thin sauce of this dish and becomes kind of gummy. Fresh Pasta will have its day, just not here.
  • Two (2) cans of Whole Baby Clams

INGREDIENT NOTE : Generally, next to the canned tuna, you can find these in your local Über-Mart. Oftentimes, you will find tins of minced or chopped clams, however these don't work so well because they don't have enough juice and not enough clams. If all you can find are minced clams, see the VARIATIONS section for options.

  • One (1) medium-sized Vidalia Onion, or any other "Sweet" Onion
  • Four (4) cloves of fresh Garlic
  • Xtra Virgin Olive Oyl
  • Dry White Wine
  • Pepperoncino (Red Pepper Flakes), OPTIONAL
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly ground Black Pepper
  • A bunch of Flat Leaf Parsley (this is actually an ingredient and not a garnish; do not forget this! Also, try not to use Curly Parsley, it doesn't have the same flavor and texture (Larry and Moe may not care, but I do).

Fill your large pasta pot about three-quarters of the way with cold water and place over high heat.

Using a sharp knife, peel and very finely chop the Vidalia Onion; place it into a cereal bowl.

Peel, smash, and mince the Garlic, and add it to the Onion.

Wash and dry the whole bunch of Parsley. Remove the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Very finely chop the Parsley leaves and place them into another convenient cereal bowl.

Phew! That was a lot of chopping, go open the bottle of White Wine and have yourself a cockytale. But before you do, place a large heavy-bottomed sauté pan with high sides over medium heat to warm up.

With a glass of Wine poured and the sauté pan hot, add about three (3) or four (4) good glugs of Xtra Virgin Olive Oyl to the pan, about 1/4 cup, but who measures? Swirl the pan to coat the bottom. Add the Onion and Garlic, a sprinkle of Kosher Salt, a twist of Black Pepper, and stir to coat with the Oyl. Very gently sauté for about eight (8) to ten (10) minutes until the Onions are very soft, but not brown; adjust the heat accordingly to keep everything from burning.

When the Onions are very soft, pour in your glass of White Wine, about a cup. Give everything a good stir and go pour another glass of Wine, this one's for you! Simmer and reduce the wine until you have about 1/2 cup of liquid, about five (5) to eight (8) minutes.

Open the tins of Clams and, using the lid as a strainer, pour the Clam Juice out of the tins into the sauté pan. Give everything a good stir and add a few hearty grinds of Black Pepper. Don't worry about the Clams, we'll come back to them later.

This is OPTIONAL but lends a wonderful kick to the dish; add a heavy pinch, or more if you are feeling zesty, of Pepperoncino (the Red Pepper Flakes, y'all) to the pan, about a teaspoon and stir them into the Clam Juice.

Gently simmer the Clam Juice and everything else, stirring every so often, for about fifteen (15) to twenty (20) minutes until the Clam Juice begins to thicken and starts to form a sauce. You should be able to run a wooden spoon down the center of the pan and create a furrow that slowly fills with liquid. If the furrow fills too quickly just keep simmering, you're not there yet, if the pan looks too dry, jump to the next step.

When the sauce has formed, add the Clams from the tins and rinse out the tins with some water; add the rinsing water to the sauce. Recycle the tins (save the planet, y'all) and add three (3) hefty pinches of chopped Parsley, about three (3) heaping tablespoons to the sauté pan, don't be stingy! Stir the Clams, Parsley, and sauce together and continue to simmer for about five (5) more minutes.

By now you pasta water is boiling merrily, so add a good handful of Kosher Salt to the water and let it come back to the boil. Add the whole box of Linguini and stir constantly for the first minute to prevent the Linguini from sticking to itself. Let the Linguini boil, stirring occasionally, for about eight (8) minutes or until the pasta is "al dente", and, no, we're not talking about the baseball player.

While the pasta cooks, do not neglect your sauce, stir that every so often too.

Drain the pasta and add the pasta to the simmering sauce in the sauté pan. Add two fat pinches of chopped Parsley and thoroughly mix the sauce and pasta together. The pasta should absorb almost all of the liquid in the sauté pan.

Serve in large wide bowls, making sure to scoop up some baby Clams from the bottom of the sauté pan and place them on top, add an additional healthy pinch of chopped parsley as garnish.

This dish can be served either hot or at room temperature and is even better straight out of the fridge as a snicky snack while still dressed in your tattered bathrobe during your last bout of insomnia (and don't tell me that you've never done this, everyone has!).

As I said before, fresh Clams are the way to go here. Using tinned Clams is a concession. However, sometimes you cannot get fresh Clams or all of a sudden you have two extra people coming to dinner and don't have enough fresh Clams. This is where tinned minced  or chopped Clams come in. No matter what, I will often add a tin of minced Clams to the fresh Clams to increase the overall "clamminess" of the dish, sounds appetizing, I know.

When making this dish with fresh Clams or a combination of fresh and tinned, a few technique changes are in order. First clean, scrub, and purge your fresh Clams (if you don't know what all of that is, I'll write you up a seafood primer in future posts). When you add the White Wine, also add the fresh Clams and cover the sauté pan with a tight fitting lid. Cook the fresh Clams for about two (2) minutes and then check on them. If any of the Clams have opened, immediately remove them from the pan and place them into a large bowl. Re-cover the pan and wait for one (1) minute. Again, check the pan for open Clams and remove them to the bowl. Keep repeating. If, after about five (5) minutes of this, checking, waiting, and removing, all of the Clams that will open have opened. If there are any unopened Clams in the pan, simply remove them and discard them. Now, add the juice from the tinned minced Clams and proceed with the rest of the recipe. When you add the drained pasta to the sauce, add the reserved fresh Clams and mix.

The traditional version always uses Linguini, however, I personally prefer Fettuccini for this. I find that the wider pasta holds onto the sauce better and gives a better texture. Spaghetti and Capellini (Angel Hair) also work well, but, really, whatever long dried pasta that you like will work.

Obviously, this is a "White" Clam Sauce, but what about "Red" Clam Sauce? If you want a Red Clam Sauce, simply add a good squirt of Double-Concentrate Tomato Paste when you add the Clam Juice. Everything will turn nicely red!

Buon Appetito!

©2011 L. M. Sorré, Wait At The Bar

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