Monday, August 8, 2011

Spaghetti alla Vongole

When I was in college, I often went home with a sorority sister of mine, who lived close to campus. Her Italian mother served a white clam sauce with linguine that was off-the-wall good. She made a quick and easy version that involved bottled clam juice and canned clams, and although I've since moved onto my own favorite clam sauce recipes (which, incidentally, all involve fresh clams), I still sometimes crave that exact dish, which really, required nothing more than some heating time on the stove.

Last night, I treated myself to a relaxing evening with a new favorite recipe for spaghetti alla vongole that is as easy as it is good. In fact, it was almost as easy as the heat-and-serve method my old friend's mother preferred. After cleaning my apartment from top to bottom, I kicked off my shoes, put on some music, opened a bottle of white wine, dunked my batch of clams into some cold water for cleaning, and got my pasta water started on the stove. It was a pretty perfect way to spend a summer Sunday. Try it for yourself and see. The below recipe serves 3 or 4.

Spaghetti alla Vongole
Adapted from My Father's Daughter, by Gwyneth Paltrow
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch of red chile flakes
Pinch of fennel seeds
6 olive oil-packed Spanish anchovies
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc
2 lbs small fresh clams or cockles, cleaned and scrubbed
6 large, fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
3/4 lb spaghetti (I used DeCecco)

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over low heat. Add the garlic, chile flakes, and fennel seeds and cook for just about a minute, or until warmed and beginning to soften. Add the anchovies and stir them until they melt into the oil, about a minute. Crush the tomatoes gently by hand, just until their skins burst, and add them to the pan. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, crushing with the back of your spoon, until the tomatoes begin to break down. Add the wine, turn the heat up, and boil for a minute. Add the clams, cover the pan, and cook until the clams open, about a minute or two. Uncover the pan and discard any clams that didn't open. Lower the heat to simmer to let the sauce reduce until it's thick enough to just coat a spoon (you want it to really stick to the pasta). Turn off the heat and add the basil.

Meanwhile, cook your spaghetti until perfectly al dente. Add it to the pan with the sauce and stir to coat it.

To serve, divide the pasta into bowls, spooning the clams, sauce, and all the yummy bits on top of each portion.