When I walk our local farmers' market on Saturday mornings I look to see what looks freshest to inspire my cooking. We make a morning of it because there are several breakfast vendors (burritos, waffles, sausages, coffee) and music (today it was pirate music and kids were dressed in pirate garb) and we hang. Today J. remarked that it is his favorite way to kick off the weekend.
For me, it gets me thinking about what we can eat immediately (lemon-chicken sausage, cherries, and fresh-pressed strawberry-limeade) and what to cook for the week (asparagus, something with bacon, Hood strawberries—the best, lots of salads with butter lettuce).
Today, the clams were calling to me.
Our market has a shellfish vendor that has wonderfully pristine oysters and clams (butter, cockle and steamers). I bought two pounds of steamers and decided immediately to make spaghetti alle vongole for dinner tonight. The fish monger took his time selecting good ones. You cannot be in a hurry at this stall. You wait. Patiently. And you don't rush him. Once selected, he packed the clams on ice, and then sent us on our way.
As soon as I got home, I instant-messaged my cousin in Rome to double check my aunt's recipe. Thankfully she was home and confirmed that the way I was planning on cooking them was right. Everything I know about cooking pasta I learned from my Zia Gabriella.
SPAGHETTI ALLE VONGOLE (Spaghetti with Clams)
Put the pasta water on to boil. Don't forget to salt the water with a good fistful of salt.
- 2 pounds steamer clams, well-scrubbed
- extra virgin olive oil (about a 1/2 cup)
- 5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 4 whole dried chilis, ripped up
- chopped fresh parsley, any kind
- 1 pound of dried spaghetti (or linguine)
Preheat a pot on med-high and when it's searing hot, dump in clams and immediately put the lid on. (Do not add anything to the pot but the clams.) The clams will instantly begin to open and release their juices. When pot starts to steam, after about a minute or so, remove pot from heat and let clams cool slightly. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Keep lid on (but you can peek to see that they have opened).
Remove clams from pot and place into a separate bowl. (You can remove them completely from the shell at this point if you wish. Discard shells.) Strain juices carefully through a fine-mesh sieve or coffee filter and reserve. You should have about a cup.
Once garlic turns golden, add clam juice to pan all at once (it will splatter, no worries) and bring it up to a simmer. Let it bubble for a minute or so to reduce slightly and then dump in the clams. Continue cooking until clams are warmed through again, a further minute more.
By this time the pasta should be done. Drain it and then either dump it back into the pot (preferred since the pot is hot and therefore keeps the pasta hot) or serving bowl. Garnish with parsley and serve.
You can make this. You really can. I pre-did everything while J. took the girls out to rent movies and get a wake-up-from-nap snack. I warmed the garlic in oil and set that aside. I steamed the clams and strained the juice. I put the pasta water on medium-low to slowly heat. It glub-glubbed at a bare simmer.
When I heard the car pull into the driveway, I cranked up the heat on the pasta water then dumped in the spaghetti. Turned up the flame under the oil and finished the sauce. By the time the girls were de-shoed and washed up for dinner, it was ready to go.