I’m reading this book called Salt Acid Fat Heat right now and holy hell…if you have any interest in ever getting “off the book” and acquiring the ability to invent recipes on your own, this a great place to start. It teaches that cooking is all about mastering four key elements–salt, acid, fat, and heat–and shows how great dishes all stem from controlling those factors.
Throughout the book, the author Samin Nosrat refers to common dishes over and over to illustrate how these four key elements play off each other to create familiar flavor profiles we all love. Peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese and tomato soup, and wedge salads are all frequently mentioned along with Pasta alle Vongole, a bright umami-rich pasta dish that’s really pretty simple considering its “wow” factor. I made this a few days ago and I’m still dreaming of that fresh perfect bowl.
The layers of wine, clam juice, lemon juice, and a hint of good cheese create a briny dish that’s elegantly balanced by bright acidity. The crushed red pepper adds depth, and parsley adds freshness. Don’t skip the sourdough breadcrumbs–they provide a textural element, as well as an extra tangy note. Plus they end up soaking up the sauce and tasting delicious, which ya know you don’t want to miss out on.
Adapted from Samin Nosrat. Serves 2 hungry people, with leftovers.
- 12 large or 24 small clams. Buy them the day you plan on using them!
- 3/4 cup of white wine
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 bunch of parsley, minced
- A small palmful of crushed red pepper flakes
- Juice of 1/2 a large or one small lemon
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1/4 cup of really good parmegiano or pecorino. Fresh stuff, not the garbage in the green shaker.
- 1/2 a package of linguini
- 2-3 slices of sourdough bread, toasted til brown and smashed to crumbs
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
- First thang first, get a large pot of generously salted pasta water on the boil. The most difficult part of this dish is juggling the time, so you want to make when you drop your pasta in to cook a non-issue. Do your other prep work now too–mince your parsley and garlic, toasts and smash your breadcrumbs, get the butter, cheese, and red pepper flakes out and ready to go.
- Gently scrub the clams with a vegetable brush under cold water and rinse thoroughly. In a large saute pan, bring the white wine up to a boil, then reduce to medium high heat. Gently lay half the clams in the wine, cover the pan, and let the clams steam until they open, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the clams, letting the clam juice drain back into the pan for each one, and set in a bowl to cool down. Discard any clams that don’t open within 6 minutes. Repeat with the other half of the clams. The leftover steaming liquid is the entire crux of this recipe…if it has a greenish or blueish tint, don’t freak out, its cool. Pour all of the leftover liquid from the saute pan into a large bowl and set aside. It’s going to be the base of our sauce.
- If you’re using large clams, let them cool for a few minutes then gently remove them from their shells and slice into three or four pieces. Clams are one of those things that you really just want a small ladybite of. Discard the shells but keep the accumulated juices in the bowl. Add the clam meat back to the bowl and set aside. NOTE: you can skip this step if you’re using small clams.
- Alright, things are about to heat up. Drop your pasta in the boiling water and let it cook for 2 minutes less than the al dente time recommendation. My package said 8 minutes, so I cooked it for 6. Before you drain your pasta, use a ladle or carefully pour about a cup of the starch-rich pasta water to a coffee mug or measuring cup. This step is important, don’t mess it up.
- While your pasta is cooking, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil, the crushed red pepper, and the minced garlic to your saute pan over medium low heat and let it bubble and infuse for 3-4 minutes. Keep a close eye on this! Don’t let the garlic brown. Your house should smell awesome right now. Add the wine/clam steaming liquid broth back into your sautee pan and crank the heat to high.
- Once the broth starts to bubble, add the par-cooked pasta and turn the heat down to medium while gently tossing the pasta. Add a splash of the pasta water and the butter, and let the whole thing cook down for about 2 minutes. The pasta will absorb the delicious broth while simultaneously thickening it into a light sauce, that should surround every noodle equally. If the pasta looks dry, add a bit more pasta water and let it continue to do its thang. The noodles should look very slippery and well lubricated, but not drowning in broth.
- Take the pan off the heat. Add the lemon juice, cheese, parsley, and clam pieces/any accumulated juices, and toss until its all well distributed. Taste and add salt if its needed—but between the salted pasta water, the clam broth, and the cheese, you should probably be good. Serve with a generous handful of breadcrumbs and a drizzle of olive oil.
Remix The Dish: If you’re cooking for a picky eater, portion out their pasta before you mix the clam pieces back in the pasta. Believe it or not, the tangy and umami-rich pasta tastes A LOT like a Caesar salad, and pairs well with chicken as its protein instead. My husband HATES seafood but ate his entire bowl with chicken on top. You could also make this dish with mussels–add a pinch of saffron to the steaming broth, and stir in fresh dices tomatoes with the butter and cheese.