Linguine with clams has become a frequent weeknight dinner around here. It’s very quickly prepared (the clams can almost be completed in the time it takes to boil the pasta) and it is very hackable. My favorite version is like a game of Telephone–it comes from Mario Batali’s Babbo, via Bill Buford, via The Paupered Chef, one of my favorite food sites.
Here it is, with photos, since I did not remember to photograph mine. It’s consistently great in its simplicity, and can be adjusted to be more or less spicy, more or less buttery. I often serve it with salad (lettuce from a bag and homemade dressing–hey, I’m nothing if not inconsistent).
Here are the hacks that I use, depending on time constraints:
- Frozen clams. A few years ago, I discovered Cape Cod Chopped Clams. I was making a double batch of chowder for a college football Saturday, and the young guy at the Whole Foods fish counter questioned my request for 3 lbs. of fresh clams in the shell. Reaching into the freezer display, he told me to try the frozen, that they were excellent, and when you buy fresh clams–especially for chowder, when you have to shuck all of the clams at home, what the hell was I thinking!–you’re paying for the shell. These clams, he said, were freshly frozen in clam juice, were delicious, and I would love them. I’ve never looked back, and I use Cape Cod Chopped Clams (from the Cape Cod Chowder Company in nearby Marion, MA) for almost all cooking involving clams. For the linguine with clams, I take them out of the freezer and put them into the fridge in the morning to thaw them a bit—or even microwave them just enough to defrost. I drain them and save the juice for some later use in chowder.
- Minced garlic from the jar. Oh, what’s that? I don’t deserve to eat garlic? Well, you can blow it out your ass, Anthony Bourdain* (I keed! I love you, dude). I do keep a jar of minced garlic in the fridge, for when I don’ t have time to peel and slice fresh. Or for when I look to my little fresh garlic container and see that the garlic within is Past Its Prime and has long, green roots growing out of it. Or for when I look to the container and see that there is no garlic within. None of these scenarios are my first choice, but when it’s a weeknight and people have to eat, and it’s a cooked dish that doesn’t really feature the garlic, then it’s a legitimate hack.
- Remove some pasta for serving to those family members who might be everything-averse, and toss it with some butter and cheese (For this, there is no hack. I’m sorry. You have to use Reggiano), or red sauce and a meatball, or whatever you know they’ll eat. This is not the same as being a short order cook or a slave to your children’s whims–this is a legitimate foodhack that allows for some respect for their tastes without Going Too Far.
Add some freshly chopped parsley, if you have it. It makes the dish look and taste that much better. If you don’t have it, no big whoop.
Do not hack:
- Olive oil. In a dish this simple, where you really taste the oil, don’t substitute. No need for the extra-virgin (Nana never used extra virgin in her life, and we were a family of olive oil importers), as the oil is being heated and flavored with the garlic and chili flakes and wine. And clams. But use good oil. My die-hard brand loyalty is to Berio Olive Oil–first because of the above mentioned importing, from the time when Berio was not sold on supermarket shelves but in ethnic markets–and then later, because after some comparison, I’ve found it to be the absolute best value, in terms of being well priced and really good for cooking.
- Pancetta. Tempting as it may be, if I don’t have pancetta in the house, I don’t make linguine with clams. Don’t substitute proscuitto or some random Ham (I’m talking to you, Mom). It needs the texture, saltiness and taste of pancetta. I will admit that I have not tried this with regular bacon, and I suspect that it wouldn’t be bad. Different for sure, but not bad.
I made this the other night, between a late arrival home from school and an evening soccer practice. The kids had linguine tossed with some olive oil and crumbled goat cheese.
*Here is the quote referred to above, about the garlic. I’m posting the whole thing, because it’s a favorite of mine and a frequent reference among some Good Friends of Mine. And he’s right—freshly sliced garlic is so much better. But it’s one of those things.
Treat your garlic with respect. Sliver it for pasta, like you saw in Goodfellas, don’t burn it. Smash it, with the flat of your knife blade if you like, but don’t put it through a press. I don’t know what that junk is that squeezes out the end of those things, but it ain’t garlic…Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screwtop jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic. (Anthony Bourdain, from “How to Cook Like the Pros,” in Kitchen Confidential)