Sunday night is the only "fixed" meal in our house. Every week, I make a different sauce but always always serve pasta. I seriously could eat pasta every night which is why it's a very good thing that it's been relegated to just one evening.
To me, linguine with clams is a deeply nostalgic and nearly perfect dish. The sweet-briny flavor of the clams, the spicy bite of the garlic rounded out by the freshness of the lemon and herbs over silky pasta is the stuff my food dreams are made of. I associate it with some of the great, old-school restaurants in Little Italy and on the New Jersey shore from my childhood. I was inspired to make it last Sunday in honor of the season finale of the incredible HBO series, Boardwalk Empire. For those of you who haven't seen it, it is a superbly cast drama set in Atlantic City during the prohibition era. It's heavily weighted with the darker side of humanity but the money shots of the boardwalk, the wide, white-sand beaches and the Atlantic ocean are breathtaking. But I digress. Back to the clams.
I think you are either a fan of the clam or not. If you are at all of the fence, I encourage you to try the combination of fresh chopped and smaller whole clams. For young kids especially, this may be the way to go. You get the drama and the flavor of the whole clams (that they don't have to eat) and sneak the chopped bits in the sauce. This is a super easy dish and it can be on the table in about 30-40 minutes, depending on your knife skills.
linguine with clam sauce
4 T olive oil
4 T butter
18 manila (if possible) or pasta neck clams*
1 c chopped clams
1 medium onion, chopped
2 small shallots, chopped
1/3 c chopped parsley
1/4 c basil, cut into ribbons
1/2 c or more of dry white wine
1/2 c grape tomatoes, halved
juice and zest of 1 1/2 lemons (I used in season meyer lemons)
1-2 t crushed red pepper
1/4-1/2 c heavy cream
1 lb linguine
salt and pepper to taste
Put a large covered pot of salted water on to boil.
In a very large skillet**, melt together the butter and olive oil over med-high heat. Add the garlic, shallots and the onions and sauté for a few minutes, taking care to not burn the garlic but to soften and color the onions. Turn down the heat to medium and add the chopped clams, wine and lemon juice. Season with crushed red pepper and salt. The water should be boiling by this point, so throw in the pasta.
Add the heavy cream, and turn down the heat to low-medium. Cook for about 5 minutes, taking care not to cook away any of the precious sauce. If you do, you will need to build it up again with a little more wine and lemon juice. Just before the pasta is done, turn the heat back up and toss the whole clams and tomatoes into the skillet. Cover and steam until they open, shaking the pan a few times to move around the sauce. Throw away any clams that haven't opened. Adjust for seasonings now, adding a little more heavy cream or even a pat of butter if the sauce is too acidic. Drain your pasta, reserving a little of the water. Add the herbs and pasta to the skillet and carefully mix the pasta into the sauce, adding the reserved pasta water if it seams too dry. Serve either in the skillet or in a large, shallow bowl. I like to serve it with a pinch bowl of crushed red pepper and parmesan cheese on the table.
*My only option on a Sunday in the Rocky Mountains was to use little necks (which are NOT very little) and take about 10 minutes to steam open rather than the 3-5 minute that manila or pasta necks do.
**I have said large skillet but no cover for it so I improvise with a large, heavy bottomed sheet pan as a cover.