Okay, so the trip to Sardinia, coupled with the sudden drop in temperature, means that I’m having an Italian (read carb) phase. That and bikini season is over and Italian food is just so damn tastilicious. So here we are again and today’s treat is spaghetti alle vongole. It sounds fancy and yet it really is a cinch to make at home. The only trouble you might have is sourcing fresh clams (which are kind of key)…
I am lucky enough to live around the corner from new kids on the block Prawn on the Lawn, a fishmonger and seafood bar in Highbury. The thought of supping on a chilled glass of vino (maybe even indulging in a cheeky oyster or two) whilst they gut, skin and what-have-you my chosen catch of the day is pretty enticing indeed! As you enter, you are greeted by the fresh saline smell of the ocean and two very friendly chaps eager to please. Their fish counter is a veritable smorgasbord of the sea which I personally wanted to climb onto and become one with, so sparkly and bright-eyed were its offerings. Uh-em, and the menu – which changes regularly – looks excellent too (think scallop ceviche, tuna carpaccio, whole crab and, intriguingly, ‘cold fish and chips’). I’m thinking I should eat there soon so I can review it for the wider public, right?
Right, back to supper. Spaghetti with clams is such a classic dish that I was tempted to shake things up a bit – you know, add a bit of this or a bit of that, get creative. And then I thought: This dish is too perfect to mess about with so I should just concentrate on making it beautifully. And this is where I got to. Al dente spaghetti and sweet, plump clams in a white wine, garlic and chilli sauce, with a whisper of butter for silkiness and flecks of parsley and lemon zest for brightness. It absolutely spoils your tastebuds (but not rotten). Try it and treat yourself!
There seems to be a lot of energy going into the tomato debate – Is there a place for them in spaghetti alle vongole? Does their acidity smack the poor sweet clams about so? – and this is where I (have recently decided to) stand: Tomatoes are lush and colourful and, if ripe, sweet too. So if you can get your hands on some juicy, sun-kissed little beauties, I say lob ’em in. If you can only find anaemic, hydroponic tangerine-hued specimens, leave well alone and go bianco. Sorted.
Spaghetti alle vongole
– 500g fresh clams in shells
– 180g dry spaghetti*
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 8 ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
– 2 cloves garlic, crushed
– 1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
– salt & pepper, to taste
– 75ml white wine
– small knob butter**
– small bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stalks chopped
-1/2 teaspoon lemon zest and squeeze of juice
*Substitute for gluten-free pasta if you’re GF!
**Substitute for dairy-free spread if you’re dairy-free.
Scrub the clams and rinse in cold water. Discard any with damaged shells or any that refuse to close when tapped sharply. Immerse in a bowl of cold salted water for 2-3 hours for them to release any sand. Tip: If you miss this step out, you risk serving gritty clams…
Plunge the spaghetti into a saucepan of salted boiling water and cook according to instructions. Tip: You want it al dente – with a little bite to it – so keep tasting during the last minute or so of cooking and then drain it prontissimo!
While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a wide-based pan on a high heat, add the tomatoes, garlic, chilli, parsley stalks, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper and fry for a minute or so. Pour in the wine and add the clams.
After 3 or 4 minutes the clams will start to pop open. Once open (discard any that remain stoically closed), remove from the heat, stir in the spaghetti, butter, 1/2 the parsley leaves, lemon zest and juice and leave to sit with a lid on for a couple of minutes, allowing the flavours to infuse.
Serve with the remaining parsley leaves sprinkled on top.
Source: Recipe and photos from pip & little blue.