Saturday, June 23, 2012

Linguini, Clams, Garlic, White Wine: What's not to love?

This classic Italian dish is easy and quick to prepare.  Whenever I see fresh Littleneck clams in the fish case, I grab a couple pounds and prepare this meal.  Of course if you haven't previously prepared the dish, selecting the clams alone can be confusing.

Selecting Clams:  Littleneck clams are members of the Veneridae family, a large family of mollusks which includes many commercially valuable species. “Littleneck” is not a taxonomic classification, and people use it in varying ways in different parts of the world to refer to several different clam species.  When it comes to eating clams, smaller is often better, as they will be less chewy. So look for medium to small sized clams, rather than going for the biggest clams you see. Clams should be alive at the time of purchase; this means that that their shells will snap shut when tapped. Never select a clam that is already open or chipped, broken, or damaged in any way. Make sure to immediately unwrap them at home, so they can breathe, and store them in the refrigerator in a colander or another device which drains readily, allowing the bodily fluids of the clams to drain away rather than accumulating.

Preparing the Clams:  Just before cooking, soak your clams for 20 minutes in fresh water. As the clams breathe they filter water. When the fresh water is filtered, the clam pushes salt water and sand out of their shells. After 20 minutes, the clams will have cleaned themselves of much of the salt and sand. Then one by one, remove the clams from the water and use a firm brush and scrub the shells.  The clams are now prepared for cooking.  You may return them to the refrigerator until they go into the pot.

Ingredients  (serves 4 adults)

•2 pounds fresh clams, such as littlenecks, in their shells
•2 tablespoons olive oil
•4 garlic cloves, chopped
•1 medium onion, chopped
•1/2 cup dry white wine
•1 cup clam juice
•1 15-ounce can clams, rinsed
•Cold water
•1 pound linguini
•Grated Parmesan cheese
•1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and sauté for 3 minutes, then stir in the chopped garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds. Add white wine and cook for 2-3 minutes then add the chopped clams and clam juice.  Reduce heat to low and simmer lightly while you heat the pasta water to boiling.

The basic ingredients for clam sauce.

Bring a large pot of cold, salted water to boil.  Add the linguini to the pot and cook according to package directions, approximately 8 minutes.  Add the fresh clams to the Dutch oven or deep skillet with the clam sauce.  They too will take about 8 minutes to cook, but check them frequently and when they open they are ready and should be removed from the sauce.

After removing the fresh clams from the sauce, toss in a handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and stir in.  This will help to thicken the sauce, although it is optional.  Transfer your nearly cooked (but still al dente) linguini to the sauce and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes.  This permis the pasta to absorb the flavors of the sauce.

Plate the pasta and circle with clams.  Sprinkle with  chopped parsley and serve.

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