Today’s post written by our friend Francesca, host of our most recent Ask Chef Tony episode “Spaghetti alle Vongole” as she vacations in the Dominican Republic, taking some time by the beach to reflect on her childhood in Italy.
Spaghetti con le Vongole.
Like many family traditions of Italy, this dish has been a part of our lives since the Roman Empire.
Originating from Naples, there are two basic versions – there is “dirty” (with a touch of tomato) and there is the classic and poorest style, with garlic, olive oil, red pepper and lots of parsley, otherwise known as “white sauce”.
In our homes from north to south, we used to prepare this dish for the Christmas Eve dinner in keeping with the history of the Roman Empire. I myself come from Rome, where, by good fortune, the tradition is doubled up! On Easter Day as well, the entire town goes out to celebrate the holiday with a lunch at a beach town. Whoever you are, you will always look to go to the best place to have fish. It’s like an absolute must – it’s the opening of the summer palate! Where we grow up, we insist the fresh fish has to be eaten right after the fishermen come back, and so we always choose a beach town restaurant. I remember, as if it were yesterday, all the kids laughing, screaming, playing, and running around the family table. And when the food was ready you would find me sitting in front of my Spaghetti Alle Vongole, my spaghetti with clams, which mom used to cut in small pieces and help me to eat. I would turn my meal into a careful artwork by adding with my little fingers exactly one clam on the fork tines for each precious bite.
As I got older many things have changed, but not the tradition. I still do the Easter lunch with friends every year, and now I enjoy my dish with those close to me, just as I did back then, but with a variation – the same menu; Spaghetti with Vongole, Rombo con Patate (a fish with potato dish) but now I can complete the Easter with a nice Falanghina wine!
Thinking and writing about it make me smile – it is something really hard to completely describe. Memories are so unique. Different regions of Italy maybe have different traditional foods for Easter, but for me, as a Roman, I will always have my Vongole. It brings me home and I can smell the beach!
Well, I think it’s time to get up and let you go because I just got hungry. I need some Vongole!😄
Sent from my iPad
Ingredients to serve four:
- About 4oo grams of Spaghetti
- 1 bunch parsley
- 3 cloves garlic
- About 50 to 60 fresh live clams (12 to 15 per person)
- White wine
- Peperoncino (chili pepper flakes)
- Olive oil
Wash your clams a few hours ahead by submerging them in a large basin or pot of fresh cold water. Add about a tablespoon of salt per quart of water and let it sit for 4 to 6 hours, stirring the clams around a few times. The clams will release whatever sand and grit they contain and you can now remove them from the water.
To start your dish, use a lidded saucepan large enough to contain all your clams. Before steaming your clams, put enough olive oil to generously cover the bottom of your saucepan and over low heat, add two whole garlic cloves, one diced garlic clove, half a bunch of finely chopped parsley, and chili pepper flakes to taste. Be careful not to let anything burn. The goal is to work the flavors into the olive oil and two to three minutes should be enough.
Now add your clams to the saucepan and bring the heat up to medium, and cover. The heat should soon dispatch your clams and they will quickly open up, and release water and juice, creating your sauce. This can take from 5 to 10 minutes, and hopefully not much more. You don’t want to leave the clams in too long or they will overcook and become tough. Stir the clams on occasion to make sure they heat evenly. While your clams are steaming, you can get a pot of water started for your pasta. Once you see all or most of the clams are open, give it another minute and then shut the heat. If there are clams that simply refuse to open, they may have been dead clams to start and you should discard them. An additional step to take to make the dish a bit more practical, is to remove some of the shells ahead of time (about half) so that the diner does not have to spend the evening removing every clam from its shell. You want to leave a few, for some aesthetic and tactile appeal, but go ahead and do some of that labor ahead of time.
Once your pot of water is boiling, add a small handful of salt, and your pasta (about 100 grams per person). Check the package for the timing. You’ll want to take your pasta out just a bit before it’s done. Set your timer. While that’s going, bring your flame back up high on your pot of clams. When that starts to bubble, flash it with a couple dashes of white wine. Give that a minute or two to burn the alcohol off and then shut the flame. When your pasta is nearly done, take it off and drain. Now marry it with your clams (if your saucepan is not large enough, you can use the pasta pot) Put some heat under it, and mix it all together. The clams will have released a lot of liquid, so this extra mixing time will let the pasta absorb some of that liquid and finish cooking itself.
And that’s it. You’re dish is done. Just plate it, and enjoy it with a nice white wine.