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David Rubel's
(former host of WAMC's "What's for Dinner")
Pasta with Fresh Clams

Recipe No. 84
(aired on September 6, 2006 on WAMC radio)

Aside from being a fantastic cook and radio personality, David Rubel is an historian, writer, and the president of Agincourt Press, a book production company in Chatham, New York.

"The quality of this dish depends entirely on the quality of the fresh clams that you use. I make it several times each summer while vacationing on Cape Cod because I can get fabulous clams dug the same day. I'd be reluctant to make it with fish-store clams and wouldn't even consider making with supermarket clams. I guess I'm just a clam snob."

"Fortunately, I have a couple of friends, Pat and Barbara Woodbury, who raise clams for a living in Wellfleet."

Ingredients

  • 36 littleneck clams
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large bunch of parsley
  • 1 lb. dried pasta (spaghetti or linguine)
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1 1/2 c dry white wine (such as Sauvignon blanc)
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
digging clams

To Prepare:

  1. Salt the pasta water. While bringing it to a boil, wash and dry the clams and coarsely chop the garlic and parsley.
  2. Begin cooking the pasta. When it is just barely done, drain it and set it aside.
  3. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven (or a large skillet fitted with a lid), heat the olive oil over a medium-low flame. After a few minutes, add the clams and raise the flame to medium-high.
  4. Cover and cook until the first clams open. Add the white wine and butter.
  5. Continue cooking, covered, until the rest of the clams open (see tip below).
  6. As soon as the clams open, remove them to a large bowl tented with aluminum foil to keep them warm.
  7. When all the clams have been removed, add the garlic, parsley, red pepper flakes, and black pepper to the remaining sauce and simmer for a minute or two.
  8. Then add the drained pasta and continue cooking for another minute or two as the pasta absorbs the sauce.
  9. Top the pasta with the reserved clams and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
TIPS:
  • Be sure to use dried pasta, rather than fresh, because fresh doesn't have the body to stand up to this cooking method.
  • Monitor the clams closely because they can become very chewy if you overcook them. Start removing them when about half have opened and, if you time it just right, the last few clams will open right in front of your eyes.
  • Don't skimp on the wine or the cheese because poor grades simply ruin this dish. In general, never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink, and never use grated cheese from a shaker can. (Really, you should grate the cheese at the table.) Sure, Parmigiano-Reggiano costs $14 a pound, but you need only one or two ounces.