Linguine con le Vongolé (Linguine with Clams)

This Italian classic is simple and delicious.  It’s easy enough for a busy weeknight and elegant enough for a special dinner for two.  It is satisfying and filling, yet light on both the wallet and the stomach.  Also, it’s guaranteed to keep the vampires away for a millennia or so.  What’s not to love?

Time: 30 minutes (plus 60 – 90 minutes, inactive, to purge clams of sand)
Level: Easy
Cost: About $4 per plate
Serves: 4-6

Ingredients

  1. 1lb (8-10) fresh, live Little Neck clams, purged of sand
    • When you buy fresh clams, make sure that they’re cold and shut tight.  Any clams that are open just a tiny bit should close up after tapping firmly on them a few times.  Any clams that don’t shut upon being tapped or are gaping wide open are dead… don’t buy them!
    • In order to purge the clams of sand, soak them for 30 minutes, refrigerated, in cold water, with about 2-3 TBSP of kosher salt.  You want the water to be cold and salty enough to trick the clams into thinking that they’re in the ocean.  You’ll be surprised how much sand is in the bottom of the bowl.  Repeat this process in 30 minute intervals, until no more sand is in the bottom of the bowl.  This will take 1-3 cycles.
    • You can use all canned clams if you like.  Just go for 2 cans of chopped clams and 1 can of minced clams.
  2.  1 6.5oz can chopped clams (and their juice)
  3. 1 6.5 oz can minced clams (and their juice)
  4.   3  TBSP butter, divided
  5.   1/4 cup good olive oil
  6.   4-6 cloves garlic, sliced paper thin
    • Slice the garlic as thinly as you can using a very sharp knife.  Alternatively, use a mandolin to slice the garlic, but watch your fingers!
  7.   1 small shallot, diced
  8.   1.5 – 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  9.   3/4 cup dry white wine
  10.   3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
  11.   Juice of 1 lemon
  12.   1/2 cup Italian parsley, finely minced
  13.   Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)
  14.   1 lb linguine cooked according to package directions

Instructions

  1. Heat water in a heavy stockpot for pasta and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer until you are ready to cook your pasta
    • Don’t  add salt  or oil to your pasta water.  Clams are salty enough on their own.  Adding salt will make your final product taste like a salt-lick.  Oil will prevent the starch from sticking to your sauce and there’s enough oil in the sauce already.  To keep pasta from sticking together, use a good quality linguine and stir every few minutes until cooked.
  2. Heat olive oil and 1 TBSP butter over low heat until barely warm.  Add shallots and sauté for 3-5 minutes without letting them brown.  You want to sweat them, not brown them – if they start to brown, turn down the heat (don’t worry, if they brown it’ll still taste fine, just try to avoid it).  Add your garlic and simmer over low heat until soft – again, don’t let it brown.  If it browns a little bit you’re okay, but but browned garlic is much less forgiving than browned shallots.  (Off the heat and wait a couple of minutes if you notice your garlic turning anything other than golden).
  3. Add red pepper flakes and simmer for 1 more minute
  4. Add wine, chicken broth, lemon juice and juice from canned clams (but not the clams themselves; reserve those) and bring to a boil.  Reduce by 1/3 and allow sauce to thicken.
  5. Add your pasta to your boiling water.  If you time this right, your pasta should be ready by the time you hit step 8
  6. Add fresh clams.  Reduce heat to medium and cover.  Continue to cook until all clams have popped open and are singing opera to you, 5-7 minutes
    • Many recipes commonly call for discarding clams that don’t open.  These clams are in fact likely the strongest and tastiest, but some clams are very stubborn.  If after 10 minutes or so all your clams aren’t open, you have two options:  Discard the ones that are still closed, or remove and set aside the open ones and continue to cook the closed ones until they open.  What you don’t want to do is continue to cook the open clams waiting for the stubborn ones to open – if you do, you’ll overcook the ones that have opened already.
  7.   Add canned clams and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  8. Remove pasta from boiling water with tongs and add directly to the pot with the clams and sauce.  Stir well to combine.  If the pan looks dry, and a few TBSP of pasta water to the pan.
  9. Add remaining two TBSP butter and stir until melted.  Continue to cook pasta in clam sauce until al-dente.
  10. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with Parmesan cheese and a crusty hunk of bread.

 

 

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