Many Italians and Italian Americans refrain from eating meat on Fridays. The practice goes back to the days when the Pope asked people to sacrifice meat eating for God. Rumor has it the real reason was that the fishermen were paying him off because they needed more work. Who knows?
Whatever the reason, it has become tradition. Some only eat fish on Fridays during Lent, but others keep it up all year long. Even if you don’t reserve your fish eating for Friday, your mouth can’t help but water when presented with a dish of linguine with white clam sauce. Truly, it’s one of the simplest dishes to cook.
Now, this is one of my favorite meals. I love shellfish and pairing it with pasta cooked al dente is the stuff of dreams. But I have to admit that the clams I get in the United States are never as delicious as the ones I get in my family’s native Ischia, Italy. And bad clams can leave a bad taste in your mouth (literally). In any event, I am still able to get decent clams Stateside, and I often indulge. Frankly, I don’t think I could live without them. Ok, so I could but who wants to?
Anyway, without further ado, discover how to make linguine with clam sauce.
Pasta (linguine are obviously ideal, but I have used fettuccine – as in the photo above – and spaghetti)
Clams (I usually have between .5 to 1 lb. to go with a pound of pasta)
Garlic (2 to 4 cloves)
Salt (for the pasta water)
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Black pepper (optional)
For starters, you have to wash your clams. This is an important, often overlooked step, to preparing clams. Put the clams in a bowl and cover them with cold water. Add some ice and about a tablespoon of vinegar to the water. Don’t worry, you will not taste the vinegar when you cook the clams. It just helps draw out the sand and grit. Then, place the bowl in the refrigerator. I try to do this overnight, which means getting the clams the day before you are actually going to cook them. If that’s not possible, you should at least leave the clams soaking for a few hours. If you take shortcuts, you risk having sand and even a pebble or two in your sauce or having extra salty clams. None of these outcomes is desirable. When you are ready to cook the clams, take the bowl out of the fridge and dump the clams into a colander. Then, run cold water over the clams a bit. Then, use a vegetable brush to scrub each clam with nothing more than cold water.
Now, you’re ready to actually start cooking. I lightly coat the bottom of a dutch oven with olive oil and turn on the stove to a medium high flame. Sometimes, I add a clove or two of garlic to the pot before adding the clams. Put the cover on the pot. In about 10 to 15 minutes, the clams should open and be done. Give them a minute or two more to make sure they are good and done. You want them to not only be open but for the clam to easily come out of the shell.
In the meantime, boil the pasta. Make sure to boil the water like an Italian and keep the pasta al dente.
While the clams are cooking and the water is boiling, you can start the sauce. Saute the cloves of garlic in olive oil. I actually would use about one-quarter cup of olive oil. You can remove the cloves from the oil once they brown but before they burn. Once the clams are done, reserve the liquid in the clam pot and remove about half (if not a little more) of the clams from their shells. Reserve the clams still in their shells. You will add about one-third of a cup of the liquid and all the naked clams (don’t judge, that’s what I call ’em) to the garlic-flavored oil. Saute it all to blend over a medium-low flame. Be careful not to burn the oil. When you’re about ready to add the pasta to the sauce, add the red pepper flakes if you’d like. Heat through for a minute longer and add the pasta to the sauce. I usually shut off the gas at this point, but many Italians leave the flame on its lowest setting for this part. Stir the pasta into the sauce. Once the sauce is coating the pasta, you can plate the meal for each of your guests. Top the pasta with chopped fresh parsley and some of those clams still in the shell. Never ever put parmigiano on pasta with shellfish. Please. Don’t. Do. It. The Italians might arrest you. I’m only slightly exaggerating.
Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10. For more handmade crafts and party gear, visit the Italian Mamma store on Etsy.