Spaghetti alle Vongole
Ah, Italy. It's a beautiful country, with a vibrant culinary history that has enduring appeal. Much of the history of Italian food centers on the notion of cucina povera, or "poor cooking." Traditional Italian food often celebrates elevating what could be foraged; the romantic roll of the language makes the ordinary sound chic. So clams, harvested along the shore, were paired with a basic spaghetti for a meal that's cheap and filling...but call it spaghetti alle vongole and it sounds elegant. We upped the game a bit and are making spaghetti alle vongole e pomodoro, which is Spaghetti with Clams and Tomato.
We used 48 Littleneck clams, which are one of the smallest varieties of Quahog, a common clam that can be found in all sorts of dishes, from risotto to chowder. Don’t stress if you can’t find the same Quahogs in your area, but just be mindful that if you use bigger clams your portion sizes might feel a little "off". You don't want a plate of pasta with only three or four clams on the whole dish. Going with smaller clams means for a four-portion meal, everyone will get around a dozen clams, which has more aesthetic appeal. Plus, Littlenecks are more tender, and frankly, they just look cuter. The sauce and preparation for this dish is easy even if you are a novice to the world of Italian cuisine. While you do have to pay close attention to inspect the Littlenecks, the rest of the sauce is a simple combination of basic ingredients that come together to make a delicious and flavorful sauce.
This meal may rely on simple ingredients and is based on the notion of cucina povera, but that doesn't mean it's boring. Because there aren’t a lot of ingredients trying to crowd each other, each of them gets to share the spotlight and display their distinct flavor profiles. Choose a white wine that's on the drier side, like pinot grigio or orvieto, which will allow flavors to come through. We used Crushed Maras Chiles to give some heat and depth to the dish; these chiles are also mildly acidic and have fruity notes that pair well with the grape tomatoes. Our Naples Seasoning has toasted onion, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, roasted garlic, red bell pepper and marjoram (distinctive spices that spell “ITALY!”). This dish would pair perfectly with some wine and some salad- if you’re looking for a total Mediterranean experience, maybe a Greek Chopped Salad?
- Bring 5-6 quarts water to a boil. Salt water, and cook pasta as directed to al dente and drain well.
- Run clam shells under cold water to remove sand and grit. If you come across clams with partially opened shells, tap the shell a few times. If the clams close on their own that means they are alive and still perfectly edible. If you have clams with open shells that have dirt inside or don’t close on their own, they are dead and need to be disposed of.
- In a deep skillet, heat 3 Tbsp Olive oil to medium. Add chile flakes and sauté for a minute. Add sliced garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until the garlic starts to soften. Add tomatoes, clams, parsley, Naples Seasoning, and white wine and cover. Cook about 5 minutes, or until the clams open up.
- Once the clams have opened, add the spaghetti and toss well to coat.