I had a craving for some kind of shellfish dish this past week, and I wanted to make something simple yet substantial. Looking through my pantry and refrigerator stock, I knew I could put a pasta dish together. Most times, I’ll stick with shrimp with a diavolo style sauce because it’s easy and cost-effective. However, I just wasn’t feeling in the shrimp mood, and decided to dish out my take on a different Italian classic.
Linguine alle vongole (linguine with clams) is one of those dishes that is on the menu of almost every true Italian restaurant, and the best kitchens can put the dish together with such amazingly simple techniques. My cooking philosophy centers around the idea of simplicity and allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves, and there’s no better way to do that with this pasta dish.
When putting together a dish such as linguine alle vongole, the most important aspect to keep in mind is the star of the dish. In this case, the clams are what will make your dish really pop, so getting fresh, quality shellfish is paramount. Skimping out by getting some frozen, shelled clams will only bring the taste and texture down a notch. You could opt to shell the clams after cooking them and before adding them to your pasta, but I enjoy the rustic charm and visual appeal that comes with serving whole clams on the plate.
The most rudimentary style of this dish contains just four ingredients: linguine, clams, white wine, and garlic. A southern Italian variation includes some chili flakes to give it some heat. For my spin on this classic, I wanted to create a robust base for the clams to sit on, so I decided to use some green bulb onions and shiitake mushrooms to make the white wine sauce a bit more vibrant and sumptuous. The result of using the onion and mushrooms is that the pasta picks up some of that subtle flavor, and the added layer of texture gives a good bite to the dish. The chili flake added the right amount of heat and kept the flavor from being one-dimensional.
If you’re looking for a simple meal to hit that sweet spot of seafood and amazing flavor, some linguine alle vongole will do the trick.
*As a side note, my camera battery died while I was taking pictures, so I had to switch to the camera-phone for the finished product.
Albert’s Linguine alle Vongole
- 1 lb fresh clams (I used littleneck, though cherrystone works well too)
- 1 lb/1 box linguine
- white wine – any table wine should do
- 6 or 7 large cloves of garlic
- chili flakes
- 1 stalk of green bulb onion
- handful of large shiitake mushrooms
- handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- Soak your clams in cold water, and wash the dirt and sand off thoroughly. The shells should be closed, and discard of any that stay open.
- Crush the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife blade and chop through several times to produce small but substantial chunks.
- Wash the bulb onion thoroughly . Cut off the woody bottom portion of the bulb base and discard. Slice the bulb and stalk portions thinly, about a quarter-inch thick.
- Wash and clean the mushrooms. Cut off the tough bottom base of the stalks and discard. Separate the stalks from the caps, and slice the caps into thirds.
- Wash the parsley and discard of any yellowing leaves. Roll the bunch into a loose ball and rough chop through.
- Start your pasta water and bring to a boil. Remember to first add in good a sprinkle of salt to give the pasta flavor. The salted water will also be used as part of the sauce base.
- With your pasta water at a boil, add in your linguine. Let it cook to 1-2 minutes less than suggested on the box. The reason for this is that we will be adding the pasta to clams and sauce, so it will continue to cook for a minute or two in the pan. This is generally a good technique for any pasta dish, as it produces a perfect al dente texture and soaks up the flavor of the sauce.
- Right after starting the linguine, fire up your saute pan and add a good glug of olive oil. When hot, add in your chopped garlic and onions. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper to taste.
- After the garlic and onions have started to sweat (about 30 seconds), add the mushrooms. Stir the mix around for another minute before adding in some chili flakes.
- Now, add in your clams and a good 1-2 second pour of white wine. Stir the mixture and cover the pan with a lid or large bowl to steam the clams. You may also want to add in some vegetable stock for added robustness.
- After about 4-5 minutes, your pasta should be ready. Drain your pasta and add to the saucepan. Save about a quarter cup of pasta water and add to the saucepan as well. By now, the clams should all be opened up. If some still need more coaxing, steam for another minute. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.
- Sprinkle in your chopped parsley and check the liquid sauce in the pan. If it is too runny, keep the heat on high and constantly mix the pasta until the sauce has thickened up a little bit. If the sauce is to your liking, turn off the heat and mix the pasta in the pan.
- Remove the pan from the heat and serve on a flat plate or in a pasta bowl. If you want to cut the thickness of the pasta, squeeze a little bit of lemon juice over it. Feel free to add a little bit more parsley as garnish.