Monday, January 23, 2006

Recipe: Pasta with White Clam Sauce

This isn't an exact science; if you're wild about using tons of garlic, increase the amount. I don't usually add salt, because clams provide plenty of it, but be sure to check for it before serving and add some if you need to. As far as the clams, if you have access to tiny cockles and don't mind taking the time to scrub them, they're wonderful. They cook more quickly than littlenecks, so check them after about 3 minutes and serve them as soon as almost all of them have opened. Whatever kind of clams you use, there will usually be some duds that stay closed. Curse them mightily, then just let go and toss them in the trash.

Serves 2

1/2 pound linguine or spaghetti
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1-2 small fresh chilies or pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup white wine
18 littleneck clams, rinsed under cold water and scrubbed with a stiff brush

1. Set a large pot of salted water over high heat to cook the pasta. If your pasta's cooking time is longer than 7 minutes or so, you should begin boiling it before you start cooking the sauce, as the sauce takes very little time.

2. Choose a large skillet that has a cover, and set the skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and allow to heat for 1 minute.

3. Add garlic, chilies or chili flakes, and parsley, and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until garlic becomes golden (don't let it burn).

4. Add wine and simmer for about 20 seconds to let wine reduce.

5. Add clams, turn heat to high, and cover skillet. Check progress after 3 minutes. If most clams haven't opened, continue to cook for up to 2-3 minutes more. After that, discard any unopened clams.

6. Before serving, taste sauce, and add salt if necessary. Ladle sauce over hot cooked pasta, and top with clams. You can shell them if you like, but clams in their shells make an attractive presentation.

Note: This is the most basic version of this sauce. Try…

* Starting by cooking 2 strips of bacon or some sliced pancetta in the skillet. Remove the meat when crisp but leave its fat in the pan to mix with the olive oil in step 2. Proceed with the recipe, and then sprinkle the crumbled bacon or pancetta over the sauce to serve.

* Adding 1 or 2 anchovy filets along with the garlic, chili, and parsley. Break them up as you stir, and they'll melt into the sauce and give it a richer, deeper, slightly saltier flavor.

* Garnishing the dish with thinly sliced fresh basil.

* Draining the pasta 2 minutes before it's cooked, then tossing it into the sauce so it better absorbs the sauce's flavor. The only hitch here is that it's best to remove the clam meat from the shells first, or else it can be difficult to stir the pasta into the sauce.

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