We interrupt your regularly scheduled program for…a recipe that isn’t vegetarian. Or is it? As they lack a central nervous system, there seems to be a debate on the vegan-friendliness of bivalves. I don’t know what the answer is myself, and oysters, clams and mussels are not something I would normally eat, but for ambiguous food groups such as this, I sometimes will adopt a “when in Rome” attitude. And in Rome we certainly were, on the coast of North Carolina where fresh-off-the-ship local clams were sold everywhere on the roadside.
I do not find the sight of a slab of flesh on a plate visually appealing at all. But clams and mussels tossed together with pasta just looks so pretty. They are a more sustainable type of seafood, earning yellow and green ratings from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood watch; you can even grow your own oysters right off your pier, as my family does. Of course, with water pollution and over-harvesting an ever-present risk, populations are in decline worldwide, which is my main reason for avoiding seafood, but the occasional indulgence is certainly okay.
I make the tomato sauce from scratch in this recipe as tomatoes are abundant, and I was on vacation, so why not? But throw in a can of tomatoes instead, and you have yourself an easy dinner to make during the week. I think you could also add in some cream with the wine to give this sauce a creamy base.
Spaghetti Vongole (e cozze)
1 onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup white wine
~dozen clams and/or blue mussels (note: “vongole” means clam but you could use mussels in this recipe too, it would just technically be called “spaghetti vongole e cozze”).
Salt, pepper, herbs to taste (Italian seasoning, fresh basil, crushed red pepper, etc)
Place the shellfish in a bowl of cool water for about 20 minutes to allow them to filter out any sand or debris. Scrub and clean the shells (“debeard”). Discard any with cracked or open shells.
Bring a well-salted pot of water to a boil for the spaghetti (hint: save energy by boiling pasta in water for only two minutes, turn off the heat, and let sit in the water for the remaining time).
Peel and seed the tomatoes: cut the woody stem out of the center and score the bottoms. Dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds, remove and put in a bowl of ice water. Remove peel and squeeze out seeds. Coarsely chop.
In a large saute pan (a deeper one, with a lid), saute onions, black pepper, and any seasoning 5-10 minutes over medium heat. Add the garlic toward the end. Deglaze with white wine and add the tomatoes.
Add the clams to the pot, cover, and allow to steam until the shellfish have opened, about 10 minutes (mussels will open earlier than clams).
Remove mussels and clams from the pot with tongs and set aside temporarily. Allow the sauce to cook down to your preferred consistency. It will probably be very watery at this point thanks to the bivalves, so it may take another 20 minutes or so. If there is a lot of water, you can turn the heat up to high to burn it off more quickly, but keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t overcook.
When the sauce is done, toss with clams and pasta. Shave some fresh Parmesan on top, add some fresh basil. Savor the glory of summer!