Digging through decades-old family scrapbooks, I found a well-worn index card with a recipe for “Spaghetti with Red Clam Sauce” handwritten by my dear Aunt Stella. So I gave it a few whirls, making minor tweaks each time. The preparation was quick using canned chopped clams, which avoid the toil of removing clams from the shell, make for easy cleanup and don’t require refrigeration. Similar to dry pasta, canned clams are great to use in portable meal-kits when backpacking, at camp, on a sailboat and other adventures.
If you have steely hands, good knife skills (Stella had both!) and time available, then freshly shucked cherrystones or littlenecks are the way to go. A third option would be to use frozen chopped clams. Careful though: Fresh or frozen clams require continuous refrigeration.
Yield: 4 servings
Prep: 20 minutes
Cooking: 20 minutes
5 (6½-ounce) cans chopped sea clams (Bar Harbor brand preferred) or 20 cherrystone or littleneck clams cut fresh from shell or 2 pounds frozen chopped clams plus 8 ounces of bottled natural clam juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (with a harvest date)
1 can (2 ounces) flat filet anchovies in olive oil
8 cloves garlic, finely minced or crushed
½ cup coarsely chopped green onions
¾ cup coarsely sliced sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
¼ teaspoon crushed dry red pepper, more if you prefer a spicy version
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 plum tomatoes, each quartered lengthwise, sprinkled with a pinch of salt
Optional: ¼ cup dry vermouth or white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste, double concentrated, tube
½ pound spaghetti (Rao’s or Anna’s brand preferred)
Juice from ¼ small fresh lemon
½ cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped coarsely, then divided in half
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped coarsely
Optional: ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Open cans of clams and reserve juice in a separate bowl. If clams are freshly shucked, chop coarsely, reserve 1 cup of natural juices and set both aside. Frozen chopped clams require an extra 8-ounce bottle of natural clam juice.
Heat olive oil in a large deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add anchovies and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes before adding garlic. The anchovies will dissolve. Cook the garlic for 2 minutes. Don’t let it turn dark brown.
Add green onion, sun-dried tomatoes, red pepper flakes, black pepper, 1 cup of clam juice, plum tomatoes, optional vermouth or wine and tomato paste. Lower heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, reducing the total liquid to about 2 cups. Don’t measure, just eyeball this.
While the mix is simmering, bring 4 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil. Then add your favorite spaghetti, or an alternate pasta (if you insist).
Cook spaghetti for about 10 minutes until it has a firm and chewy texture (al dente), strain and combine with the simmering sauce. Add chopped clams, lemon juice, half the parsley, and all the basil, combining all ingredients well. Cook over very low heat for another 3 minutes. Do not boil!
Using tongs and a large spoon, transfer to a large bowl, and toss thoroughly before portioning onto platters. This gives the pasta an opportunity to absorb the flavor of the sauce. Promptly serve garnished with lemon slices, remaining chopped parsley and optionally topped with Parmesan cheese.
Stella served this meal with a traditional Greek salad, sliced fresh avocados and a loaf of crusty bread. Fresh steamed asparagus with lemon is also an excellent accompaniment.
Wines: A crisp dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio by Masi Masianco/Verduzzo, with notes of lemon and peaches, from Italy, pairs very well ($12/750 ml). An herbal Sauvignon Blanc from California, France or Italy works nicely; my preference is Petit Bourgeois by Henri Bourgeois, which is dry and tastes of green apple and citrus, from France ($13/750 ml). A red, dry, oaked wine, such as Italy’s Langhe Nebbiolo by Giovanni Rosso, with hints of cherry, strawberry and vanilla, is an excellent pairing ($20/750 ml).