Blessed to be living on a peninsula or neighboring island, Italians enjoy a ready supply of seafood of all kinds — and their diet is all the better for it. A favorite dish of mine, whether I’m visiting Italy or at home, is pasta prepared with clams. Here in Chicago, the selection of fresh clams can be limited to cherry stones, with little necks and manila clams available sporadically. Cherry stones and little necks are actually same species of clam. The only difference is their size, with cherry stones being the larger of the two. I find little necks do taste sweeter, however, and I’ll use them whenever I can. If, however, only cherry stones are available, I’ll remove them from their opened shells during the cooking process, give them a quick chop, and then return the chopped clams and any juices to the pot. When all else fails, I have used, with some success, frozen clams and cockles purchased from a few of the area’s Asian markets. These same stores, by the way, can be a relatively cheap source for flash-frozen, vacuum-packed calamari, in any size you could possibly want.
As you can tell by this posting’s title, today’s recipe features clams cooked in a tomato sauce. In this recipe, I find that the sweet, delicate tasting clams can be overpowered by the tomatoes. So, in order to bolster the clam flavoring — and unlike the “white” version of the recipe — I’ll add a can of whole or minced clams to the sauce. It’s listed as “optional” within the recipe’s ingredients and the choice is yours to make. By the same token, whether you add any canned clams, be sure to use herbs and spices sparingly. They, too, can overwhelm the clams. It’s a tricky balance you’re trying to achieve but one definitely worth the effort.
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Pasta with Clams (“Red Sauce”) Recipe
total time: under 2 hours (includes time to prep clams)
- at least 2 doz. little neck or manila clams
- 1 can (7 oz) whole or minced clams (optional)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/8 to 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1 large can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
- 1 lb cooked pasta (tagliatelle pictured above)
- 1 cup reserved cooked pasta water
- chopped parsley for garnish
- At least an hour before dinner, use a brush to individually scrub each clam before rinsing and placing it in a large bowl of cold freshwater. Rinse them a second time just before proceeding with the recipe.
- Heat oil over med-high heat in a large frying pan with a lid. (If using red pepper flakes, add them now and sauté for 1 minute before proceeding.) Add onion, season lightly with salt & pepper, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and parsley and sauté for another minute.
- Add tomato paste, sauté for one minute, add the wine, and then add the tomatoes. Season with salt & pepper, bring to a boil before reducing heat and simmering for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, your pasta should be cooking, with an eye toward being drained just as the clams are opening.
- Increase heat to medium high, add the basil, and stir. (Add the canned clams now, if you choose to use them.)
- Add the clams and cover tightly.
- In about 5 to 8 minutes, the clams should be open & steamed. Discard any unopened clams. Replace cover and remove from heat.
- Combine the clams & tomato sauce with the drained pasta. If too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
- Serve immediately, garnished with chopped parsley.
Tired of tomatoes? Try the “white sauce” version of this recipe.
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