This Was the Week That Was
Farm to table, circa 1983. A favorite recipe. Some great food. And drinks.
“I’m going fishing with friends but I have a problem; I don’t like fish because it’s so… fishy. Do you have any suggestions on how to cook fish so I’ll like it?”
That, I believe, is the question Padma Lakshmi, Marcus Samuelsson, Dawn Davis and I are grappling with in the photo above. Or perhaps it was the question from a vegetarian who wanted to know how to get a good sear on a steak for her carnivorous boyfriend. Or was it the frazzled mom wanting tips on feeding a picky kid?
When I agreed to join Dinner SOS Live at Symphony Space I didn’t expect to have so much fun. But the audience was great, we were all wildly opinionated, and somehow we ended up having substantive conversations about rigor mortis (fish), the maillard reaction (meat), and the folly of food fights with your kids (you can’t win).
The next night was even more fun. The 30th Anniversary Party at Daniel, was like a class reunion for food folks. Everyone admires Daniel, and everyone showed up to celebrate him. What were people talking about? Mostly Martha: Ms. Stewart, at 82 is the model for this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. There’s hope for us all!
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Buoyed by all that nostalgia I came home and went rooting through a box of old menus, where I came upon this intriguing letter from Forrest and Marilee Childs. It was 1983, and they were the proprietors of Glen Oaks in Big Sur - and early practitioners of farm to table dining.
One of the more remarkable aspects of that menu is how much prices have changed. You might find steak and Pasta alle Vongole on the same menu today- but the steak would cost twice as much as the pasta - and the restaurant would probably be losing money on the steak.
Still, no matter the price, when I find clam pasta on a menu I order it. I love clams, and will happily eat them raw, steamed, fried, stuffed, or in chowder. So I was thrilled when my friend Robin decided to celebrate her birthday with a raw bar. All the clams a person could eat!
And yet, improbably, when the party was over and the guests had gone we had leftovers. “Will you make clam pasta?” Robin asked.
She insists this thrown-together meal was the best clam pasta she’s ever had; I suspect her mind was addled by Champagne. But Robin wants the recipe, so here, to the best of my recollection, is what I cooked.
(Yes, yes, I know Italians frown on mixing cheese with fish. Personally, I think that’s crazy; these clams are much happier beneath a modest shower of grated Parmigiano.)
Although vongole veraci are traditional, you can use any clams you happen to have. Even Quahogs, although you want to be careful cooking those monsters.
Pasta alle Vongole
2 pounds littleneck clams (or as many as you can afford. More is better.)
1 pound Manila clams or cockles
¾ cup dry white wine.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, fairly finely chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced or minced
Dried chili pepper flakes
Grated rind of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
8 ounces spaghetti
Parmesan cheese, grated (a few tablespoons)
Scrub the littlenecks well. Put them, in a single layer, in a pot, add wine, cover and cook over high heat until they open. It should take about 5 minutes. Do not overcook. Snatch the clams out of the pot as soon as they open (there are always one or two recalcitrant clams who open very slowly).
Strain the liquid through cheesecloth to remove sand. Grit will ruin this dish. Let it cool, then remove the clams from their shells and plunk the naked mollusks into the juice so they don’t dry out. If they are large, cut them into smaller pieces.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. (Clams are salty; you probably don’t need more salt.)
Melt butter and olive oil in the same pan in which you cooked the clams. Add onion and saute until it is translucent. Add minced garlic and chili peppers.
When water is boiling add pasta and cook until it is about 2 minutes from done.
Meanwhile add wine/clam juice to the onions in the pan and cook the smaller clams. When they are open, add the cooked clams to the mixture and turn up the heat. Add lemon zest, a few tablespoons of lemon juice and the almost-cooked pasta and allow the pasta to absorb the liquid. Add more butter, cheese and minced parsley, stir furiously. Taste to see if you want more lemon juice.
I like to add a handful of crisp breadcrumbs for texture at this point, toss again and serve.
This will serve 2 or 3 people….
I was also lucky enough to dine with Michael Ruhlman this week. Michael’s a wonderful writer who contributed some of my favorite articles in Gourmet (if you’ve never read his article on Thomas Keller and the rabbits you’re missing out).
His latest book, out this week, is The Book of Cocktail Ratios. Like much of what Michael has written, it makes other books on the subject redundant. Filled with history, information and great recipes, it will definitely improve your parties. I’m particularly happy that Michael has included the Martinez, a fantastic drink which deserves a renaissance.
Incidentally, if. you’re looking for another good read I highly recommend Ruby Tandoh’s recent article in the New Yorker. When I first got to Gourmet half the writers who came in said, “I want to be the next Laurie Colwin.” Although I doubt Ruby would thank me for this (she’s a very different person), I think she may be it.
Best dish of the week? This simple taglietelle pomodoro at Rezdora. When clams aren’t available I’ll happily live on spaghetti with tomato sauce. And if that’s my fate, I’d like it to be this one please.
While you’re at Rezdora, be sure to also order the gnocco fritto. And the ravioli with the egg inside, and one of the lovely salads, and…. Such a delightful restaurant!
Great column and loved the clams and pasta recipe but I’m afraid I’ll have to omit the cheese. The Italian pasta gods will send lightning bolts from the sky if I mix cheese with clams. No matter how delicious! But it’s good to know that rules are made to be broken.
I noticed what looks like a foam on top of the pasta dish from Rezdora. This is probably very short-sighted of me, and I have never tasted a dish with a culinary foam on it, but it looks so unappetizing to me! And foams are everywhere! Very trendy. lol Maybe I should give it a try before I judge.