It’s only the first day of summer and I’m already weeks deep into our unofficial dish of it, linguine alle vongole, preferably hastily prepared about 10 to 15 minutes before we dive in, eaten outside with a current favorite rosé, caprese salad and a massive bowl of kale caesar (from SKED). It’s infinitely summery. It’s pasta, but I don’t feel like I need a nap after I eat it. And hey, there’s even a t-shirt to go with it (hat tip).
You do not need one fancy thing to make it, save the freshest clams you can find. You can pick them up on the way home from the beach or sprinkler park or wherever you’re going to spend your summer day now that cooking will be the easiest part of it. I prefer manila clams, as they’re smaller and, I’m convinced, sweeter, but littleneck or cherrystone are fine as well. From there, a glug of oil, red pepper flakes, a lot of garlic, a cup of wine, a bag of dried pasta, a lump of butter, a squeeze of lemon, and a pile of chopped parsley, and boom, so easy let’s do it again every week.
The only thing I’m extremely bad at when I make it is measuring, which I’m sure fills you with confidence right now. If you were interviewing me as I was cooking it and said “how much garlic did you just chop?” I’d be like an impenetrable grandmother and say “some” but I mean “a lot” and possibly even “all of it” (it = a head of garlic) when I double this. We’ll call it 7 cloves. Whaaat, you say, did you invite vampires over? But it settles in so well with the other ingredients, it will still not be the first thing you taste. If you ask me how much olive oil I put in the pan to heat the garlic, I’d say, “a glug” or “just coat the pan.” Parsley? A big handful. Butter? A lump. (Note: Every cook who has ever told you they added only a “pat” of butter lies.) Pepper flakes? As much as your crew can handle. Salt? Go for it. Pasta? Eh, about a pound, but what I really mean is, if you guys are a 7 to 8 servings to a pound bag people, do that here; if you’re 3 or 4 to a pound, do that instead. Clams? Well, are clams-as-centerpiece or clams-as-accent people? Depending on where you fall, you might want a scant 1/2 to a generous 3/4 pound per person. Shown here is the latter, and it’s doubled, and this isn’t even all of them, and we still only had pasta left at the end of the meal, and this was just a normal Sunday for my husband’s family, which is why I love them. Know your audience. Written below are more middle-of-the-road amounts that will make most people happy.
A few other things I hope to head off before anyone asks:
– Deb, I don’t eat clams: Try this with mussels! Or shrimp, although I’d sauté or grill them instead of steaming them.
– Deb, I don’t eat fish at all: Ah! I really want to make this with either chickpeas or artichokes, but be ready to tweak flavors as needed, as clams provide their own flavorful broth in a way that these ingredients will not. In both cases, you are now allowed to finish it with parmesan. If you wish to finish the seafood version with parmesan, just warn me before you tell me so I can cover my ears.
– Deb, I don’t want to eat pasta: My favorite pasta swap is actually white beans, either giant (like we do here) or smaller ones more readily available in cans. Maybe you cook dried beans like these chickpeas and pour the warm clams and their juices over them?
– Deb, I really only care about the clams: On it! Try these garlic, wine, and butter steamed clams with grilled bread, Portuguese-style.
– Deb, I only want to make the caprese salad: (How did you know what my lunch was!) I take two approaches to caprese salad when I’m using grocery store (and not recently-picked, peak-season tomatoes, still a couple weeks off here): 1. Find the best ones you can get and season them well. 2. Find the best ones you can get and slow-roast half of them. This combination of some tart/chewy tomatoes and fresh ones is addictive, and hides a multitude of tomato imperfections. In both cases, add mozzarella or burrata, a few leaves of fresh basil, olive oil, and coarse salt to taste. Balsamic vinegar is not traditional on authentic caprese, but you should make food the way you like it. I add a few drops when the tomatoes are mediocre.
One year ago: Stovetop Americanos, Easy Drop Berry Shortcakes and Zucchini Grilled Cheese
Two years ago: Strawberry Milk, Corn and Black Bean Weeknight Nachos, and Funnel Cake
Three years ago: Saltine Crack Ice Cream Sandwiches, Strawberry Cornmeal Griddle Cakes, Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie
Four years ago: Valerie’s French Chocolate Cake and Limonada de Coco
Five years ago: Espresso Granita with Whipped Cream
Six years ago: Broccoli Parmesan Fritters and Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken
Seven years ago: Rich Homemade Ricotta and Linguine with Pea Pesto
Eight years ago: Shaved Asparagus Pizza, Root Beer Float Cupcakes and Lamb Chops with Pistachio Tapenade
Nine years ago: Lemon Mint Granita, Pickled Sugar Snap Peas, and Springy Fluffy Marshmallows
Ten years ago: Dead Simple Slaw + 6 Heat Wave Reprieves, 10 Paths to Painless Pizza-Making, and Pistachio Petit Four Cake
Eleven years ago: Gateau de Crepes
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Dutch Apple Pie
1.5 Years Ago: Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts and Homemade Irish Cream
2.5 Years Ago: Potato Kugel, Pull-Apart Rugelach, Tres Leches Cake and a Taco Party
3.5 Years Ago: Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix and Gingerbread Biscotti
4.5 Years Ago: Sweet Potato Cake with Marshmallow Frosting, Cigarettes Russes Cookies, and Sugared Pretzel Cookies
Linguine with Clams
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound dried linguine
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- About 7 cloves garlic, minced
- Red pepper flakes, to taste
- 1 cup crisp, dry white wine, doesn’t have to be fancy
- 3 1/2 to 4 pounds manila (my first choice), cherrystone, or little neck clams
- 3 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter
- 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 lemon
Cook linguine: Bring a large pot of very well-salted water to a boil and cook linguine until it is tender but still with a good bite left to it, about 1 minute less than the final doneness you’d prefer. Carefully ladle out (about) 1 cup of pasta water into a glass or bowl, set aside. Drain pasta, discarding remaining cooking water.
Cook the clams: In your empty pasta pot or a large sauté pan with a lid, drizzle oil in empty pot and add garlic, a couple pinches of pepper flakes (up to a teaspoon is great here for people who like more heat), and kosher salt, I use about a teaspoon here but use less if you’re nervous. Turn heat to medium, stirring the garlic and pepper flakes until the garlic begins to sizzle and just barely begins turning golden brown. Add wine and half of reserved pasta water and turn heat up so that it boils. Add clams (discarding the water they were soaking in) and cover pot to steam them open. Manila clams take 3 or so minutes to steam open; cherrystone and/or little neck can take up to 5 to 7 minutes. Peeking under the lid is fine.
[If you’re really obsessive like me, after a minute or two, you might open the lid and start removing, with tongs, the ones that have opened. It’s basically like playing one of those fishing games at a beach carnival, where the fish mouths open wide with a prize inside, except these you can actually catch and eat.]
Finish the dish: Scoop cooked clams into a large bowl with a slotted spoon, discarding any that don’t haven’t opened, and leaving the cooking liquid behind. Simmer the cooking liquid in the pot until it has reduced slightly; you want a little less than cup. Taste for seasoning; adjust as needed. Add butter and, once it has melted, add drained linguine and half of parsley; cook them together for 1 minute, tossing frequently, until linguine is well-coated and only a little liquid remains at the bottom. If needed, use some or all of remaining pasta water to keep pasta loose. Add clams (and any liquid that has collected in the bowl) to the pot and toss to combine, once or twice, then tip whole mixture into serving bowl.
Finish with lemon juice, to taste, and remaining parsley. Eat right this very second.