RECIPE: David Rosengarten’s Linguine with White Clam Sauce


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He calls it his favorite cookbook, the one with the most “home run recipes.” It’s also the cookbook that garnered chef/writer/TV personality David Rosengarten a James Beard Award. So when we spent a day “In the Kitchen With” David for our upcoming winter issue and he actually made this  — possibly his favorite recipe — from his favorite cookbook, well, we were more than delighted. And since you couldn’t be there with us to taste it, we asked if we could share the recipe with you. Ever gracious, David immediately agreed.

You’ll find out more about the theme of our day with David in the winter issue, but we should tell you that he recommends local clams (of course), but likes them shucked, rather than steaming open in the sauce. “It has been my experience that when you steam open the most widely available clams — little necks or cherrystones — they get rubbery very fast,” he says. “That’s why I choose to chop them up, and cook them very, very briefly just with the re-warming pasta.” We can attest that he is absolutely right. The clams were tender and meaty.

He was also right on with the wine, a 2012 Philippe Goulley Petit Chablis that he so excited about he is bringing it to the U.S. as the exclusive importer. “It’s crisp, tart and graceful,” he says. “Some dry whites are crisp but lack character. That’s OK, but this has more character, so it’s perfect for linguine with white clam sauce.”

We certainly agree.

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Linguine with White Clam Sauce
From It’s ALL American Food: The Best Recipes for More than 400 New American Classics (Little, Brown and Company 2005)

The combination of dried pasta and clams is a staple all over southern Italy. But the dish is usually different from what we see here in two significant ways. First of all, though Italian-American restaurants almost always choose linguine for clam sauce, in Italy you are much more likely to be served spaghetti with clam sauce; the Italians claim it holds the sauce better, and they may be right (you can substitute spaghetti for linguine in the following recipe if you wish to test the theory yourself.) Secondly, they don’t make the distinction, as we do, between “white clam sauce” and “red clam sauce.” In Italy, you simply order “spaghetti con vongole,” and out comes a bowl of pasta with clams, oil, garlic, and a few pieces of tomato tossed in; the standard “spaghetti with clam sauce” of Italy is somewhere in between red and white. I love it there — but I’m also nuts about the clam-like, saline purity of the classic Italian-American white clam sauce. The following recipe captures that quality perfectly; it is a feast for clam-lovers.

Makes 4 servings
2 tablespoons plus 2/3 cup olive oil
8 whole cloves garlic, peeled
3 heaping tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup thinly sliced garlic
24 large cherrystone clams (or a few more, if necessary, see NOTE)
12 ounces linguine
4 teaspoons finely minced parsley

1. Place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large, non-reactive sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the whole garlic cloves, and sauté until light brown on the outside (about 4 minutes). Remove and reserve. Add the 3 tablespoons of minced garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is light golden-brown (about 2 minutes.) Remove garlic and reserve at room temperature. Spill oil out of pan and wipe clean with a dry paper towel.

2. Return pan to medium heat. Add the 2/3 cup of olive oil and the 1/2 cup of thinly sliced garlic. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is just starting to color (about 3 minutes.) Remove pan from heat and reserve, covered, at room temperature, for at least 4 hours (and no more than 8 hours.)

3. Either ask your fishmonger to shuck the clams for you, reserving the juice, or shuck them yourself. Cut the clam bellies into coarse chunks (about 3 pieces per belly.) When done, you should have about 2 cups of fresh clam juice and about 1-1/3 cups of minced clams. You will need all of the clams, and 1-1/2 cups of the clam juice. If you have less, you must make up the difference by shucking a few more clams.

4. When ready to cook, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the linguine, and cook until al dente, about 8 or 9 minutes.

5. Towards the end of the linguine cooking time, place the reserved pan with the thinly sliced garlic over medium-high heat. As soon as it starts to sizzle, add 1-1/2 cups of the fresh clam juice (reserve the rest for another use.) Whisk it together with the oil, bring almost to a boil, then turn heat off.

6. When the linguine is done, drain it in a colander. Return it to the pasta cooking pot over medium-high heat, along with the 1-1/3 cup of minced clams and the browned, whole cloves of garlic. Toss in the pot for 1 minute. Add the hot clam juice with oil and garlic and toss for 1 minute more. Divide the linguine with white clam sauce among 4 wide, shallow bowls, making sure to evenly divide pasta, clams and sauce. Sprinkle each bowl with a quarter of the reserved minced garlic, and with 1 teaspoon of minced parsley. Serve immediately.

NOTE: Though this recipe calls for 24 cherrystone clams, the really important ingredients are 1-1/3 cups of coarsely chopped clams, and 1-1/2 cups of fresh clam juice. I specify 24 cherrystones, because I know that they will usually yield what you need. But if you only have access to smaller clams, or larger clams, don’t hesitate to use those as long as you extract 1-1/3 cups of coarsely chopped clams, and 1-1/2 cups of fresh clam juice. If you have no access to fresh clams, only to canned clams and bottled clam juice, you can still make this dish using the same proportions of meat and juice. It just won’t have the same level of sea-bright flavor.