In which the world of culinary hedonism is explored with a cup and a half of curiosity, a heaping tablespoon of passion and a dash of clumsiness.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sixty-second Post ~ Spaghetti alle Vongole

It started with a photo... While looking at a friend's travel photos, a picture of a pasta and seafood dish caught my eye and captivated my soul as only a foodie's soul could be captivated. She told me that it was a common dish in Japan, where there seems to be a prevalence of authentic Italian cooking (who knew?). The dish's name is spaghetti alle vongole, and is Neapolitan in origin. I decided that I must try it for myself.

So, with a tweaked recipe from the UK in hand (this was an international venture), a willing test subject at the ready (my boyfriend, John) and a Wegman's shopping list, I set out to recreate the meal that had captured me so (with the hopes that it would taste as lovely as it looked).

Here's what you'll need to take this virtual trip to the sunny Mediterranean shores of Napoli.

~ fresh clams (for two: about a pound or so - or maybe more - I got littlenecks from Wegmans as they are the sweetest)
~ spaghetti
~ dry white wine (enough for cooking and for drinking - I recommend buying a bottle to serve as the beverage and a mini bottle for cooking. Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi is a good single-serve wine for both drinking and cooking)
~ garlic
~ flat leaf (AKA Italian) parsley
~ scallions
~ lemon juice
~ extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
~ chili powder (cayenne)
~ white pepper
~ course ground sea salt
~ butter

To add a little more to the dish, I opted to roast some garlic that could be spread on a baguette. So, for the side that really compliments the dish with savory nuttiness:

~ one bulb of garlic
~ baguette
~ coarse ground sea salt

Peel the garlic cloves and generously coat in EVOO and season with coarse ground sea salt. Wrap the whole bundle up in tin foil and roast in a toaster oven (or heating apparatus of your choice) on 400 degrees for about a half hour. Start this ahead of time.

Cook your spaghetti as per usual in salted water. As it's cooking, chop up some parsley and one large scallion. Set to the side. If you have a sous chef, ask him to slice the baguette and put it in a bowl and rinse the clams.

In a pan with a well-fitting lid, start some EVOO, lemon juice, two cloves of garlic and scallions gently sizzling.

Add a bit of cayenne - I used less than the quarter teaspoon that was called for, as I have a lower spicy threshold than most. I like to taste my food thoroughly, and I find that extreme heat can detract from that. Others love this taste/sensation, so you be the judge and add as much or as little as you like. The dish itself is typified by having a bit of heat (hence why it is refreshing on a hot Mediterranean day) but it would be delicious without it, as well.

Add the white wine, parsley, and clams.

:: PAUSE ::

The recipe from the UK calls for steaming the clams in less than two tablespoons of white wine. Obviously, American clams must be thirstier than British ones. That or the original recipe doesn't intend to yield a lot of broth.

The liquid that comes from shellfish as they open and cook is referred, in the foodie world, as "liquor." This is an appropriate name for it, as it is about as intoxicating and delicious as some finely distilled spirit. I like a lot of it. As you may recall, my mussel recipe yields more than enough, and is intended to be mopped up with the baguette after all the mussels are consumed.

I was sort of expecting the same deal with this recipe, but even after allowing for the pasta to absorb some of the liquid, there was not a lot left for dipping. To alleviate this tragedy, I would recommend adding a good deal more white wine to the pan, and definitely more clams that what was called for (6-8 per person).


So, whether or not you have gone the route of more broth, add your parsley and clams, season with salt and pepper, and slap on the lid for four to five minutes. At this point, your pasta should be sitting in a colander in your sink. Your garlic should be done, so unwrap the luscious gems and mash them up with salt to taste.

By now your timer should be going off, so take the lid off, revel in the aroma, and dump your pasta into the pan and toss it all around.

Serve in big bowls with crusty bread spread with roasted garlic. I paired this meal with a Soave from Vincentini Agostino, which was bright with citrus to compliment the garlic and scallions, light enough not to overpower the delicate clams, and cool in the face of the cayenne. It was a perfect partner for this dish, and made this the perfect meal for a hot summer evening!

Yours in the love of good food and wine (and the derring-do to take a culinary leap based solely on someone's vacation photo),

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.