Bill Buford’s story in the September 6, 2004 issue of The New Yorker, “The Pasta Station”, includes directions for making pasta with clams at home. I love this dish and whenever we find some nice fresh Cherrystone Aqua-Farms clams from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, we make it. The ingredient measurements are approximate, since Bill Buford doesn’t give amounts other than “small pinches”, “medium pinches”, “a splash”, and so on. I have taken the liberty of editing The New Yorker’s prose into recipe form.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced (a small pinch)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red peppers (chili flakes) (a small pinch)
1/4 cup diced onion (a medium pinch)
[1/4 cup diced pancetta] (a medium pinch)
2 tablespoons butter (a slap)
1/4 cup white wine (a splash)
12 ounces linguine
2 dozen littleneck clams
2 tablespoons of chopped Italian parsley
Bring 4 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil in a pasta pot.
Roast garlic, chili flakes, onion, and pancetta in a hot pan with olive oil. The moment the garlic, chili, onion and pancetta are soft, pour the oil away (holding back the contents of the pan with your tongs) and add butter and white wine which stops the cooking.
Drop the pasta in boiling water and cook until it’s four or five minutes away from being done. Then fill your messy buttery pan with the clams, enough to cover the bottom, and put the pan on the highest possible flame, the objective being to cook the clams very fast–they’ll start opening after three or four minutes.
As the shells open, you give the pan a swirl, mixing the clam juices with the buttery porky white-wine emulsion. Pull the cooked pasta out of the pot of boiling water with your tongs–all that starchy pasta water is still a good thing–give it another swirl, flip it, swirl it again, to insure that the pasta is covered by the sauce.
If it looks too dry, you add a splash of pasta water. Let it cook for another half minute or so, swirling, swirling, until the sauce starts streaking across the bottom of the pan.
Splash it with fresh olive oil and sprinkle it with parsley: dinner.