the extraordinary event of the loaves and the bivalves

Only 5 clams per serving.

I was surprised, even with the help of some good bread and the somewhat creative recipe I found on line, that I could transform 10 small clams into a delicious meal for the 2 of us on Saturday night, .

I want to call it the extraordinary event of the loaves and the bivalves.

I had originally planned to serve the clams raw, on the half shell, as a small first course the day before, but my unsuccessful first try at opening them (well, I only tried one of them) had scared me off. I could have tried heating them in the oven, and then chilling them again, but that sounded too fussy, and it would have confirmed the fact of my earlier failure, so I decided to incorporate them into one of my favorite pasta dishes, spaghetti alla vongole. The only problem was going to be their small number, so I looked round the internet for ideas for expanding their impact in a full 8 ounces of dried pasta.

The bon appétit recipe I ended up using still asked for more clams than I had, but it added ingredients I would not normally have included in a clam pasta, so it actually worked out perfectly, and it was perfectly delicious.

The clams even ended up cooked à point.

The recipe itself seems far more complicated than it should be, or at least more prolix, even after I had edited it down a little, but I can’t complain about the result.

  • two cloves of ‘music’ garlic from Windfall Farms chopped up inside a counter blender I’ve had for decades (I don’t have a real food processor, other than myself) before adding about 3 ounces of a loaf of 12 Grain & Seed bread from Bread Alone, crusts removed and cut into half-inch pieces, pulsed several times until reduced to fine crumbs, tossed into a large enameled cast iron pot in which a tablespoon or two of olive oil had been heated over a medium-high flame, the crumbs cooked, stirring often, until they had turned golden and fairly crisp (5 to 7 minutes), then transferred to a bowl, adding 1 or 2 teaspoons of zest from an organic Chelsea Whole Foods Market lemon, seasoned with sea salt, tossed to combine everything then set aside, the pot wiped out with paper toweling, a third of a cup of oil poured into it and heated over a medium flame, and 6 more garlic cloves, sliced very thinly, tossed in and cooked, stirring often, until golden around the edges, joined by 2 Sicilian anchovies packed in salt, from Buon Italia, rinsed and filleted, along with half a teaspoon of crushed Calabrian peperoncino, also from Buon Italia, all cooked, stirring, until the garlic was totally softened and golden, and the anchovies dissolved, then one fourth of a cup of white wine poured in, quickly stirred and simmered until only a couple of tablespoons of liquid were left in the pot, 10 small washed littleneck clams from Pura Vida Seafood in the Union Square Greenmarket tossed in and stirred, the pot covered and the clams cooked until they had opened, which was approximately 7 or 8 minutes, the pot uncovered and the clams transferred to a medium bowl, leaving the liquid in the pot, the bowl tented with foil, while adding to the pot exactly 8 ounces of Neapolitan Afeltra Pasta di Gragnano I.G.P. Spaghetti chitarra from Flatiron Eataly, which had already been cooking inside a large pot of boiling water for only 5 minutes, but not before 2 cups of the pasta cooking liquid had been scooped out, and half to 3 quarters of it added with the pasta and brought to a boil, cooked, tossing constantly, adding still more liquid as needed, until the spaghetti was al dente and the liquid emulsified, or, more specifically, glossy and thick enough to cling to the pasta, or for about 5 minutes, the pot removed from the heat and a quarter of a cup of chopped parsley from Trader Joe’s and a couple tablespoons of butter added, the pasta stirred until the butter had melted, after which roughly a third of the reserved breadcrumbs were tossed in and combined with the rest of the pot’s contents, the entrée served by arranging most of it in shallow bowls (avoiding filling them up, which is always a good idea when serving pasta, for both its appearance and the taste, the remainder reserved on the top of the range to follow as a second helping), topped with the reserved clams, more breadcrumbs, more peperoncino, more parsley, and drizzled with a little olive oil (note: there were no actual clams in the second helpings)
  • the wine was a French (Savoie) white, Jean Perrier et Fils, Vin de Savoie Abymes Gastronomie 2017, from Flatiron Wines 
  • the music was Purcell’s 1689 opera, ‘Dido and Aeneas’ (I’ve said it before, but it’s one of my favorite operas from any period, even after having played my single LP of excerpts over and over in the 50s and 60s, often on weed, until I had worn out the grooves), in a performance  with René Jacobs conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment