Fridays con Vongale

Growing up, our family occasionally had linguini with clam sauce. My mom’s version was always the Ligurian-style white sauce made with a bechamel and canned chopped clams. It was always one of my favorites and one of the few dishes I could actually make when Dom and I were first married that he didn’t feel the need to “improve” before eating it.

Years later, we had the real deal at a tiny little bodega on a tiny little calli near the Rialto Market in Venice. Made with perfect little clams fished straight from the Venetian Canal, simmered in local white wine, and served over freshly made pasta  - Unbelievable!

That one dining experience elevated our love of clam sauce to new heights. Now we buy bales of fresh Manila clams at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market and clean them with flour.  Lately this has been Dom’s meal of choice on Friday evenings (even when eating out at our favorite Italian restaurant, Valenza.) Served with a crisp Gavi or Trebbiano, it is a fabulous way to start the weekend.

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • ½ bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 3 ½ Ibs. Manila clams, scrubbed
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine (like a Friuli)
  • 2 tablespoon good-quality brandy
  • Salt
  • 1 lb. fresh linguine
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat 5 tablespoons of the olive oil, along with the minced garlic and half the parsley in a large pan over medium-high heat for about 1 minute. Add the rinsed clams, cover the pan and cook for 1 minute more. Add the wine and brandy and simmer, uncovered, until the alcohol has evaporated which should take about 2 or 3 minutes.

Return the cover to the pan and continue cooking, shaking pan several times to turn clams and stir sauce for about 3 minutes more. The majority of the clam shells should open in this amount of time.  Uncover to pan and allow liquid to reduce slightly.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 5-8 minutes (fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried). Drain pasta in a colander and add the pasta to pan with clams and pan juices. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 1 more minute more, shaking pan until well combined.

Before plating, discard any clams that have unopened shells. Add Parmigiano-Reggiano and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with remaining chopped parsley. You may want to add an empty bowl to the table for the spent clam shells.