Last night, we enjoyed our favorite seafood pasta: linguine alle vongole, linguine with white clam sauce. It’s a relatively quick and easy dish to prepare, but it does require attention to detail: slow poaching of the garlic in the olive oil to extract optimal flavor, just a pinch of Calabrian red pepper flakes, a final addition of finely minced fresh garlic and lemon zest at the end to add brightness.
As with most Italian cooking, the primary ingredients must be of the highest quality. For this reason, sometimes you have to adjust a recipe by what’s available in the market. Such was the case yesterday. Typically I use either Manila or small littlenecks for this dish. However, yesterday, there were none of the former and the latter were just too big. But I did find some wonderfully fresh cockles, which I find a tad sweeter than clams.
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 teaspoon Calabrian red pepper flakes
2 pounds small clams (littleneck, Manila, or cockles), scrubbed if necessary and rinsed. Inspect the clams discarding any that are cracked or that are open and do not close when pinched.
1/3 cup of dry white wine
1/2 cup Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped fine
8 oz linguine
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon, unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, starting from room temperature, poach 3/4 of the garlic and the pepper flakes in the olive oil over a low flame until aromatic. Add a pinch of the parsley for the final minute of sautéing. The garlic should take on only the lightest hint of gold color.
At this point, liberally salt the water (add the salt slowly to avoid boiling over) and start cooking the pasta. Cook the pasta following package directions for 1 minute less than al dente
Add the clams, wine, and 3/4 of the parsley to the sauté pan, raise the heat and bring to a high simmer over medium high heat. Cover the pan tightly and shaking occasionally, cook the clams until they open. About 6 minutes.
Remove the clams with a slotted spoon, discarding any that do not open, sprinkle them with the lemon zest. Raise the flame to high and bring the sauce remaining in the pan to a boil. Add the butter. Using tongs or a pasta fork, immediately transfer the cooked pasta to the sauté pan and toss for about a minute to coat the pasta. If too dry, add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water. At this point, the pasta will be the perfect al dente
Transfer the pasta and sauce to a bowl, add the clams, the remaining 1/4 of the minced garlic, and sprinkle with the remaining parsley. Serve on warmed plates with a few grinds of fresh black pepper if desired.
Wine Pairing: Soave, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc