The weekend right before Valentine’s Day was very busy in our kitchen with what I’d like to call “woo food”. “Woo food” involves a bit of splurging, a great wine pairing, and trying to recreate a restaurant-quality experience at home. We decided to split the workload: I would cook on Saturday and DH would take over on Sunday. I have to admit that I was so tired by the end of the weekend that for Valentine’s Day I got us the best Turkish takeout within a five mile radius.
I had been craving mussels for a while so when we went food shopping on Saturday, so I was disappointed when the only ones available in the store came in a kit with pre-made sauce. So much for my vision of moules mariniére, with freshly baked bread… What we did see was a five pound bag of live New England wild-caught littleneck clams. We have always enjoyed spaghetti with clams, and my go-to recipe from Tyler Florence is quick and super reliable, and mighty tasty. It fits our definition of ‘woo food’ – we have made it before to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.
The most difficult part of this recipe involves cleaning and inspecting the clams. Clams must be thoroughly scrubbed, and any ones that are open must be discarded. You can tell if they are still fresh/alive if when tapped against your countertop the shell closes. Two of them actually did shut! While prepping the clams, preheat the oven to 400F.
Littleneck clams – Image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons
Once the clams are cleaned, set a roasting pan in your cooking range, taking up two burners, and render the fat of four slices of bacon (chopped) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. The original recipe calls for pancetta, but I liked the smokiness of the bacon in the dish. Add red pepper flakes to taste and ten smashed garlic cloves and cook until fragrant, about three minutes.
Once the oven reaches the temperature, the add to the roasting pan about a pint of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, or quartered vine tomatoes, the clams, 1/4 cup of white wine (the Chilean Sauvignon Blanc steps through again!), the juice of one large lemon, and a lot of black pepper. Do not add any extra salt at this point – between the bacon and the clam juice released there should be plenty.
While the clams bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, boil the strand pasta of your choice according to the package’s directions and prepare a pretty garnish of basil and parsley. Keep in mind that the larger the clams, the longer they will take to steam until open. Monitor the clams from outside the oven and once most of them are open, take out the dish. Discard any clams that have not opened during the cooking process and toss the pasta in the sauce. I served it in shallow bowls with plenty of clam juice.
Should you have enough broth left over, save it. It would make a great base for rice with squid, poaching liquid for white fish fillets… just as a warm dip for bread it should be great. The flavors really develop after a day or two. If there are any leftover clams, remove them from the shells and store them in the leftover liquid.