Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ultimate Spaghetti with Clams

Because my kids are fussy eaters, we rely on a lot of pasta dishes here at the Canteen, although most of the time I end up setting aside a bowlful of plain noodles for them before adding the rest to whatever mélange of ingredients I happen to be throwing together. The frequency of pasta meals is high, but the number of noodle recipes I fall back on is not - in actuality, there are probably less than 10 in my regular rotation (Bucatini alla Amatricana, noodles with pesto, cacio e pepe, Shrimp Gambino, and baked spaghetti immediately come to mind). It is with that mindset that I approached Mrs. Hackknife one Saturday afternoon and asked her to peruse the noodle chapter of my Tyler Florence Ultimate cookbook to pick a new recipe for the coming week. What she chose was his ultimate spaghetti with clams, a tasty and simple dish combining cherry tomatoes with pancetta, garlic, white wine, basil, crushed red pepper, and littleneck clams, which are usually in abundance at Florida supermarkets. Wanting to get fresh clams, I waited until the day of cooking before heading over to the local Publix seafood counter to get my quarry of about 25 littlenecks, which I was reassured by the clerk would stay alive in the refrigerator as long as I kept them in their foam tray with holes punched in the plastic cover so they wouldn't suffocate. I dutifully brought them home and carefully placed them in the fridge with what I deemed to be adequate ventilation between the egg carton and containers of yogurt. When the time came to make dinner, I followed Tyler's instructions of cooking the bulk of the dish in the oven for about 10 minutes until the clams opened. Except they didn't really open. Even after 20 minutes of roasting, all I could see was one lonely clam that had thrust its gaping maw wide and several others with only a slight hint of surrender. Now keep in mind that I don't have a ton of experience with shellfish, but I'd read enough to know that you're not supposed to eat clams or mussels that don't open during cooking, the reason being that the dead (i.e., rotten) ones don't panic like their live (i.e., fresh) brethren when exposed to extreme heat, thus remaining closed. So here I was staring at a beautiful bowl of finished pasta (see photo above) trying to decide what to do with all of these suspect, potentially bacteria-loaded clams. I sniffed and ate the single open one - it was fine; good, in fact. I decided to pry open a few of the ones that had slightly yielded, which was surprisingly difficult without the aid of power tools. These, too, tasted just as I thought they should, briny and a little chewy. After struggling with a couple more, I opted to pull the remainder out of the dish and disposed them, polished off the rest of my pasta bowl, and began patiently waiting for the paralytic toxic plasmosis (or whatever was going to invade my body) to kick in. Fortunately, nothing bad ever happened and I was able to eat the leftovers (sans clams, but presumably bathed in the clam juices left behind) relatively fear-free. Given the ease and richness of the recipe (the wine, tomatoes, garlic, pancetta, and seafood all come together beautifully), I'd say that it's earned a place in my regular noodle rotation and I'll simply hope for cooperative shellfish in the next iteration...

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