Linguine with Clams has a special meaning for me.
A few years back, when I was a young bride, one of my dearest friends, Lizette, moved halfway around the world — to Italy, for her husband’s job. I missed her so, but found the silver lining in our long distance friendship: She and I became great penpals, penning weekly letters, and occasionally exchanging care packages (I sent the American products she missed; she in turn sent dried pasta, baci, and other Italian goodies).
In one goodie box that arrived one afternoon, she included a recipe given to her by her neighbor, an Italian “nonna.” It was for a simple Linguine with Clams. My friend, knowing that I grew a little herb garden overflowing with fresh basil, thought this would be a perfect addition to my cooking repertoire. I was so excited to try this new recipe! So, I stuck a bottle of white wine into the fridge to chill, and off I went to the market for clams, firmly focused on making my new dish that night for dinner.
As I was out in the garden plucking the fresh basil leaves to use, I suddenly realized I had a problem: my new husband didn’t like seafood of any kind! (He tells the story that as a kid, the only seafood he ate came in a flat can.) The recipe called for chopped clams, so I briefly steamed the small hard clam shells in some white wine, then removed the small muscles and finely chopped them to disguise their appearance while I poured myself a glass of wine and tried to think up a plan.
After sautéing the other ingredients then adding back in the chopped clams, my husband suddenly walked in the back door early from work! I started to panic, but he took one whiff of the garlic and basil-scented air, and enthusiastically inquired what was for dinner? As he came in close for a hello kiss, he poked his nose over the pan on the stove and answered for himself, “Oh, smells good, is that ground veal?”
“Yes,” I replied, darting my eyes away while shoving the trash can full of spent clam shells into the cabinet under the sink. “An authentic recipe from Lizette! We will dine as Italians tonight!”
“Great!” he replied, “and add an extra shake of those hot pepper flakes,” as he rounded the corner to go upstairs to change out of his suit. I hurriedly took the trash out to the garage and replaced the liner bag, dropped the linguine into the ready boiling water, then nervously set the table.
My worries were unfounded.
The dinner was a hit! The soft sweetness of fresh clams, the scent of garlic and freshly picked basil, and just enough heat from some dried chili peppers was too much for him to resist, and authentic tasting indeed. As my picky no-seafood-eating husband declared while scraping his plate and twirling his last mouthful of linguine WITH CLAMS around his fork, “Honey, you can make this anytime!”
After cleaning up, and with my husband safely upstairs, I immediately wrote out a new recipe card with a new title: Lizette’s Linguine with Veal (which I still have to this day), and tucked it into my little metal recipe file box. My now ex-husband still won’t touch a morsel of fish or seafood. But, we enjoyed “that” delicious dinner dozens of times over the years, with no one the wiser! 😉
As my picky no-seafood-eating husband declared while scraping his plate and twirling his last mouthful of linguine WITH CLAMS around his fork, “Honey, you can make this anytime!”
This recipe can be made with either fresh clams (preferred) or in a pinch, you can use good-quality canned clams if you aren’t near a fishmonger. Obviously you needn’t worry about hiding tell-tale shells.
In a pinch, this recipe can be made with good quality tinned clams if you can’t get fresh.
Place large pot with 6 qt water on to boil. Add salt to taste.
Prepare ingredients: Scrub clams under cold running water and place in colander to drain.
Finely dice onion (making approx. ½ cup).
Slice garlic paper thin.
Rinse herbs and shake to dry. Chop herbs and place in folded paper towel.
Set all aside.
Heat olive oil in 5 qt brazier pan on medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add sliced garlic and saute gently just until light golden brown. Remove from heat to prevent further cooking and burning the garlic. (Burned garlic is bitter)
Drop linguine in boiling salted water to cook to al dente, approx. 8-10 minutes.
Add clams in one layer to pan with onions/garlic. Cover and cook over medium heat approximately 5-7 minutes, just until clams open. Add basil and oregano, chili flakes and wine to pan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and take clam/shells out and reserve in covered bowl.
Add cheese and butter to pan and whisk to incorporate and thicken sauce slightly. Put back on low heat just to keep warm.
Drain pasta, do not rinse. Optional: reserve a few tablespoons of pasta water for the sauce if needs a little thinning.
Add pasta to onion/herb sauce and stir to coat strands thoroughly, adding bit of pasta water if necessary.
To serve: Mound pasta on large platter or individual plates. Place open clams around or on top of pasta. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and more grated cheese.
* If using canned clams, let the onions and herbs cook down with the wine and clam juice for approx 10 minutes (don't let onions brown though) and then add reserved clams only about 5 minutes before the pasta is ready to add. You don't want to over cook the clams!