Spaghetti alle Vongole
is a classic Neapolitan pasta dish consisting of juicy little clams, garlic, finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and a healthy slosh of dry white wine. All of these ingredients combine forces with the briny juices of the clams to produce the sea-salt broth sauce. My take on this dish includes ripe cherry tomatoes that soften and add a lovely sweetness to the dish, as well as color, when laid on the table in front of drooling dinner guests. I confess, when I visited Roma a few summers ago I stumbled across a charming little restaurant in the picturesque and slightly worn-around-the-edges area of Trastevere, nestled alongside the river tiber. I was alone that day as my Italian companion was occupied at work. I sat myself on a little table, completely alone in the sun-kissed courtyard behind the restaurant. Its walls were lined with ivy and sprawling flowers, birds chirped joyfully. The waiter was pleasantly chirpy and didn't seem to bat an eyelid that I was unaccompanied. I confess, one of the many things I learnt living abroad was that our generation are gripped by a nonsensical anxiety, stemming from being alone in social, public places whether it be a restaurant or a museum. However, during my travels I surmised that such experiences are empowering and often more insightful than those moments spent shuffling around in a group.
I promptly ordered Spaghetti alle Vongole from the cheerful, wrinkle-faced waiter, as well as a glass of wine (a lady must indulge very once in a while ). There, in that tranquil, gorgeous setting I tasted one of the most tantalizing dishes I have ever sampled . A dish that I have tried to recreate in all its magnificence at home, ever since.
If you are ever in Roma, I implore you to visit Checco Er Carettiere yourself.
Trastevere, Roma (left)
Ingredients, (Serves 4)
400g of spaghetti, (De Cecco is my favorite brand and it is often on special offer at supermarkets)
1 kg of small clams, sourced from fishmonger, is best, scrubbed clean
2 fat garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 or 2 dried chilis, finely chopped
1/2 pack of fresh flat-leaf parsley
20 (around) plump cherry tomatoes, halved
250ml of dry white wine
a slosh of extra virgin olive oil
So far as storing your freshly purchased clams, let them breathe. Take them out of the bag they are in, particularly if it is plastic and place in a bowl, cover it with a wet towel and store in the fridge. It's best to cook shellfish on the same day as purchase, however clams are known to keep up to two days. If they do go bad, you will smell a horrid putrid smell, rather than their usual fishy, smell of the sea. Whatever you do, don’t soak them in water —fresh water kills them and removes their flavor.
Before cooking, give your clams a check by assuring they are all firmly shut. If some have started to open, give them a tap. If they don’t snap shut relatively quickly, throw them away.
The aim of this recipe is to steam the clams in a flavorful liquid, this liquid is created by the garlic, tomatoes, parsley and of course, the wine which all combine with the briny juices of the clams.
Get a pan for your pasta and bring it to the boil, whilst you are waiting prepare the clams by scrubbing them clean. Once the pasta has only about 5 minutes before it will be perfectly al dente, in a deep, large saucepan (with a lid-essential )fry the garlic with a generous couple of sloshes of olive oil until golden then add the cherry tomatoes, 3/4 of the parsley and some salt and pepper. Pour in the wine and simmer gently for 1 minute then pour in your clams. Give the contents of the pan a good shake and place the lid on top. In about 3-4 minutes all the clams will open, once they are all open take the pan immediately off the heat. You don't want to over-cook the clams as they will turn an unpleasant pale color, become overly chewy and lose their fantastic flavor. If any of the clams have refused to open, dispose of them.
Drain the pasta which, by now should be perfect. Toss all the ingredients together, adding an extra drizzle of olive oil to add moisture and make sure the pasta doesn't stick. Serve indeep pasta bowls to accommodate the clams and all the wonderful sauce, which you will no doubt be mopping up later, divine! Sprinkle the remainder of the parsley for garnish and EAT!
The Foody Girl
Spaghetti alle Vongole, eaten in Rome (above)