But that leaves an old favorite: canned clams. As far back as I can remember I've loved spaghetti and clam sauce. I used to buy cans of Progresso white clam sauce as soon as I started cooking for myself. Eventually, though, I realized that it was stupid to pay that much for something I could likely make better myself, and when the first edition of Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian Cooking (which you can buy from the Amazon gadget over on the right, along with many other great cookbooks, of which I get a tiny percentage of the purchase price) came my way, I found what I was looking for. She noted in the introduction to the recipe that it had two things that you never find in Italian fish recipes, butter and Parmesan, but the recipe would suffer without them. I whipped some up. It rocked. I had other pasta-and-clam recipes, including one that I found in the New York Times where the sauce and the pasta were finished up by encasing them in foil and baking them, which I sure wish I had today, but this one quickly became my favorite.
Then something odd happened. Hazan combined the two volumes of Classic Italian Cooking into one volume, called Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and...the recipe vanished. Another one took its place, and it wasn't nearly as good. Fortunately, I had the old one memorized by then, and it remains my go-to recipe today. When, that is, I can get clams. Which I can't.
But, but, you say, you live practically on the Mediterranean! And yes, I can get those little clams, which are sweet and delicious and I know the old trick of scattering them around a pan and covering it until they open and there's a broth there and scooping them out and preserving the broth and making the clam sauce that way. And I've eaten in Italian restaurants where the "sauce" is a heaping handful of those clams in the shell mixed in with the pasta, which has to be one of the most annoying things it's possible to eat, because you have to fish around for the clams and stick the shells somewhere and meanwhile everything else is getting cold. But surely, you say, there are clams available in a jar or something. And yes, or at least there were in Berlin, where the Italian grocery store had them. They cost about €6 a jar, and there was almost no broth. They were commendably salty, but expensive. And I haven't seen them at all here in France.
Thus, I ask visitors to bring them. I loaded three cans into my luggage in Brooklyn in early April. They are, alas, gone now. And I say alas because of a sad fact about spaghetti with clam sauce in my life: it's become the ultimate broke-not-poor food. When the food starts running out and the check is far away, or, worse, there is no check on the horizon, there's almost always a can of clams stuck away. The first can of this last batch went when there was still plenty of food around, but I hadn't had this dish in so long I wasn't going to wait. It was good. The other two, though, succumbed to the usual protocol, the last one about a week ago as things got really touch and go. And now there are none. Surely one of you has heard the siren song of the Languedoc and is planning to drop by this summer...
But for those of you in the U.S. (or anywhere else you have access to this to-me exotic foodstuff), you probably wonder about Marcella's Forbidden Clam Sauce recipe. Fine: as part of our ongoing Broke-Not-Poor Cuisine series, I present it to you now.
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Here's what you need to gather together to make this:
There's parsley, white wine (sauvignon blanc), olive oil, shallots, red chile peppers (optional, but more photogenic for our purposes here) and one can of clams. Not shown is the Parmesan, which is still in the fridge, or the garlic, for some reason.
The first thing you do is chop the shallots and saute them in olive oil. Yes, you can (and I have) use yellow onions, although they're not as good. You cannot (I discovered one day) use red onions and have this taste very good. (I ate it anyhow, of course, because it was what was for dinner).
When they've gotten transparent, add the garlic and stir it around the oil briefly. Then you add some wine. How much? Enough to float the bits of sauteed stuff off the bottom of the pan; maybe a bit more. At this point, you also add the chile peppers and a couple of tablespoons of chopped parsley.
Don't turn down the heat. Let this come to a slow boil and boil it for a few minutes, until the wine's reduced by at least half. Then add the juice from the can of clams.
Let this boil, too. The wine and the clam tastes are blending, as you'll smell. You should start your spaghetti (actually, linguini by preference and tradition) at this point so it'll be ready when the sauce is. After it all boils down, it's nice and concentrated. Then add the clams and let them heat up.
Now, take it off the heat, and take a hunk of butter and a whisk and whisk it in to emulsify the sauce.
And you can figure out the drill from here: drain your cooked pasta, and mix it with the sauce and some Parmesan, top with more Parmesan, and dig in.
Dang, that's making me hungry just looking at it. Fortunately, I have a little food in the house now, thanks to a small check, and so I'll be photographing another recipe tonight. Tomorrow will feature the weirdest thing I got from the English Corner Shop's demise: a turkey, which I'll be sharing with E, since his wife J, who's vegetarian, is out of town. And that should leave me with some leftovers to make turkey enchiladas with.
Oh, yeah, that's another thing I smuggle from the States and request from visitors from Texas: corn tortillas. But that's another thing entirely.
And, better-nourished than I've been for a week, I'll bang away at yet another book proposal. I'll beat this broke-not-poor thing yet!