Italian Cooking & Language Blog

Fare La Scarpetta means to wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread.

What else could you ask for?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Buono!: Pasta Alle Vongole / Pasta with Clams

Pasta over the Christmas Eve menu
Thanks to Melabee M. Miller for the photo!

Here's a Buono! post to dispel any fears that preparing pasta with clams (in a white sauce) is difficult to make:

Based on a southern Italian tradition, many Italian-Americans will eat seven different fish on Christmas Eve. Vaguely following in the tradition of abstaining from meat on Christmas Eve, I prepared Linguine with Clams as our Christmas Eve entrée.

The recipe I followed is fairly simple, although the prep work required of the clams – especially when serving six people – can take some time.

My husband picked up 50 small clams (probably Little Necks) from the Washington Fish Market. Remarkably, out of all those clams, only one refused to open. Clearly, that's a fish market to return to!

We chose fresh pasta from Vace in Cleveland Park (I started at the Italian store, but they didn’t have any linguine or fettuccini, only smaller, filled pastas.) Everything else we could find at the supermarket.

I slowly cooked small batches of clams in olive oil and garlic in an effort to save the clam juice (instead of adding bottled clam juice.) Before too many clams had opened, I added just a little water to the pot. Then, I placed in the clams in a separate bowl as they opened. To make things easier for our guests, I took the clam meat out of the shells (usually I like to leave it in), saving the juice from the bowl with the open clams, too. In the end, I mixed the two liquids (the cooking liquid and the open clam liquid) and strained it through cheese cloth. And, ta da!, fresh clam juice.

If you promise not to tell anyone, I'll let you know that I offered my guests (and used myself), freshly grated cheese on the pasta. If you’ve been to Italy, you know that Italians are firmly against mixing cheese and fish. That is to say, if you ask for grated cheese over your fish dish, you’ll probably be denied it. This article outlines some possible reasons why the cheese/fish mixture is forbidden. 

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