People are sometimes surprised to find out we’re not big restaurant-goers. You MUST try such-and-such a place, people say all the time, but we’d generally rather spend the money on ingredients to cook at home, and a nice bottle of wine. It’s so disappointing to go out, like we did last Friday, to a ‘famous’ place where you’re served more attitude than anything else. That’s not what we like to eat.
So we’re fans of the underdogs in the city that you don’t hear much about, like the little Italian place we went to last Tuesday. The walls are painted a cheesy magenta, and the dog-eared menu is little more than a list of pastas and sauces. There’s always a table of 12 celebrating someone’s 40-ish birthday. And more candlelight than a Roman church on Christmas Eve.
But the bread is warm, the wine is perfectly chilled, and when your plate of hot pasta arrives, it’s been prepared with a lot more attention than many dishes you’ll be served in much more famous places. Isn’t it wonderful to be served a dish whose main ingredient is love?
This delicious little Montreal dive is called La Strega, (The Witch) and this recipe is inspired by their intensely briny and garlicky take on the classic Neapolitan linguine with clams – Linguine alle Vongole.
linguine with clams
NOTES: This dish is simple, but requires constant attention once you get started, so enlist the help of a sous-chef to make some garlic bread and warm the plates if necessary. The pasta finishes cooking by absorbing the hot sauce. And don’t skimp on the garlic.
Serves 4 as a main course
1 lb. linguine
1 tbsp. fine sea salt for the pasta water
3 tbsp. olive oil
5 or 6 large garlic cloves, chopped
½ tsp. red chili flakes
the zest and juice of a lemon (a ¼ C or so of juice)
2/3 C vermouth (or dry white wine)
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs. small clams (littlenecks or ‘pasta’ clams)
1 10 oz. can of clams
1 C chopped Italian parsley
1 tbsp. butter
salt and pepper to taste
1. You need two large pots: one to boil the pasta in, and a second one to make the sauce in. The sauce pot needs to have a lid, and be big enough to hold all of the ingredients, including the pasta.
1. Get the pasta water boiling while you prep all of your ingredients. Chop the garlic, measure out the chili flakes and grind the pepper. Zest and juice the lemon, and rinse the fresh clams. Chop the parsley and measure out the butter. Over a large measuring cup, drain the canned clams in a small sieve. Remove the sieve and add the lemon juice and vermouth to the measuring cup.
2. When the pasta water is boiling, add the salt and pasta. Set a timer, so that you undercook it by exactly one minute.
3. While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil over maximum heat in the second pot: the one with a lid. Before the oil is hot, add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper.
5. When the garlic is really sizzling and fragrant (but not yet browning), add the liquids: the reserved clam juice, lemon juice and vermouth. Bring these to a boil and reduce by half. During the several minutes this takes, you may need to drain the pasta in a colander. This is fine. Just leave it there while you finish the sauce.
6. Throw the fresh clams into the boiling liquid and cover the pot. Cook over maximum heat for 3 minutes, or until the clams have opened their shells and steamed for a moment. Shake the pan two or three times as the clams cook.
7. Remove the lid and add the pasta, the canned clams, the lemon zest, the butter, and almost all of the parsley (save some for garnish). Reduce the heat to minimum, and toss carefully and patiently with tongs, until the pasta has absorbed almost all of the sauce. Correct the seasoning, garnish with the remaining parsley, and serve immediately.