Note from Evelyn – Bill’s kids have been asking him for his recipes for ages, and now he’s finally decided to “open the vault”
Spaghetti alle vongole in bianco
This is the most misunderstoood dish outside of Italy. I have seen just about everything . . . . . served with cream topped with abundant portions of parmigiano and green onions, and a whole assortment of spices and herbs ….. AWFUL!!! This is what happens when bricklayers decide to open restaurants! Italian cuisine is simple, easy and generally inexpensive but it requires fresh ingredients and very few spices. Here is a dish that takes less than 20 minutes to prepare.
1. Spaghetti, abt. 100 gms per person unless you are like me and use 150 gms. I use Barilla #7 spaghetti because they are a little thicker and do not overcook.
2. Baby clams, but, if you can’t find them you can use mussles: a lttle different in taste but equally satisfying. I use abt. 1 lb for 2 servings but you can use as many as you like :) They look inexpensive by the pound but the shells weigh a lot!!
3. Garlic, Italian parsley (The frilly french parsley is also OK but it tastes a little like liquorish)
4. 1/2 cup of good dry white wine (not the plonk from the convenience store) Try an Orvieto or a Soave. Good to drink during the meal as well.
5. Hot red pepper flakes
6. Extra virgin olive oil
7. Salt and ground black pepper
You will need a pot for the spaghetti and a large pan with a lid for the clams. I use the lid from the spaghetti pot after the water starts boiling.
Prepare the clams Wash them and knock them as hard as possible, if they open or if the shells “slide” throw them away, those are mud clams and I am afraid the crab got there before you did! They are full of mud and will ruin the dish. Throw away any open clams, they are dead and we have no way of knowing for how long (no pathologists at the IGA). I usually keep them under running cold water for a while to remove the sand and let the live ones close (sometimes they open but they are still alive)
Chop up a whole mess of garlic and parsley, using the knife or the half moon. A mini food procesor is also very good. Chop it finely, about rice grain zize.
At this point place a large pot of water on the fire and allow it to come to a boil. Usually 3 or 4 liters of water should suffice. Add one tablespoon of salt for each liter. Pasta needs a lot of water to dilute the starches.
In the frying pan heat up 6 or 7 spoons of olive oil adding the pepper flakes while it is still cold. Don’t let it go too hot, just simmer it enough to release the oils of the pepper flakes. If it smokes it’s too hot and you will have to start all over again. Caution ….. stay in the kitchen, olive oil can catch fire if overheated.
After 5 minutes of simmering bring the heat up to high and add the clams with their shells ( the pan should be hot enough to gently sizzle but not spray hot oill all over the kitchen!), bring the heat down to medium and cover them for 5 minutes to let them release their water. After 5 minutes add the wine, half of the parsley-garlic mix, salt and pepper to taste. Wait a minute to let the alcohol evaporate and cover. Cook for another 5 minutes or until the clams are all open. Stop cooking as soon as they open or they will be tough and rubbery if overcooked.
While the clams are cooking, hopefully the water has started boiling so, it’s time to throw your spaghetti in. If you are using Barilla #7 set a timer for 8 minutes. They usualy cook in 10 minutes but we need to them to be 2/3 cooked.
As soon as the clams are open, remove them from the pan and set them aside in a bowl keeping them warm. Leave as much of the juice as possible in the pan, we’ll need it for the spaghetti.
When your spaghetti timer goes off, take half a ladle of water from the pot and add it to the clam juice then set the pan on high.
Strain your pasta and drop it into the frying pan, add the rest of the garlic and pasley and sprinkle lots of black pepper (to taste of course, I like lots) and mix the spaghetti with the sauce stirring continuously for 2 minutes, you can do fancy back and forth flipping with the pan but if you are not accustomed to this you may see your meal on the floor.
Serve the spaghetti in deep bowls and … mow, and this is crucial!! Count the clams and divide equally otherwise it’s not fair :) and place them artistically on the spaghetti. If you still have some garlic and parsley you can sprinkle it on for effect. You are now ready to eat!!
Don’t forget the Orvieto!!
Empty shells can be given to the cockatiel to play with! (inside joke for family)
N.B. Make sure your plates are HOT. Usually, plates are glazed with metallic oxides and warm up when you place them in the microwave for a minute on high.
A little note:
Traditionally the clams are sauteed with the spaghetti, you can do this too but you will require a much larger pan. Also if you are using a non stick pan, the clams will most certainly scratch it while sauteeing. Additionally, if you do it my way you can exercise fairness and give the same number of clams to everybody :). But, I am easy, do it whichever way you prefer.