Like many Americans, I’ve always heard of linguine with clams, but never tasted it; a ubiquitous Italian menu item I consistently pass over. Then I viewed a cooking segment on TV profiling the cuisine of Venice and witnessed a start-to-finish method of preparing exquisite linguine with clams. It looked simple, yet utterly delectable. The trick was using the freshest clams, a quality sweet cream butter, garlic, and a snappy white wine. Season with fresh herbs, and you have an exquisite dish equally at home in Venice, Italy or Rhode Island, USA.
Because quahogs are a tidal mollusk, they are briny. When making this dish, you may find no additional salt is necessary, save for the water to boil the pasta.
Also, because quahogs are tidal muck dwellers, sand is part of and parcel of a clam. But nobody likes grit in their pasta. So this dish is less about fancy ingredients and more about process and technique: taking care to remove every grain of grit from the dish.
When you look for quahogs in the store or fish market, you will likely see them listed by size (or maturity). The smallest quahogs legal for commercial harvest are denoted as countnecks. The next size up is often the most common: littlenecks. Older/bigger clams are noted as topnecks, then cherrystones, and, finally, chowder clams.
1 dozen fresh, wild littleneck quahogs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup white wine
¼ cup chicken stock
1/3 pound linguine
1 tablespoon sweet cream butter
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh green onion, chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Begin by scrubbing and rinsing the clams with cold water and vigilance. The goal is to remove any grit, inside and out. Set clams aside.
Fill a large saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, place 1 tablespoon olive oil, white wine, chicken stock, and 8 of the cleaned clams. Place a lid over pan and steam clams until they open (about 7 minutes or so). Remove clams and set aside to cool. Reduce the sauce a smidge.
As sauce is reducing, remove cooked clams from shell (you can toss the shells, or add them to your compost). Add pasta to the boiling water and cook as instructed on package.
Pour reduced sauce into a measuring cup. Rinse out the sauté pan with hot water thoroughly, to flush any sand that might have accumulated.
Wipe clean and place pan back on burner over medium heat. Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil, butter, garlic, chopped herbs, red pepper flakes, cooked clams, and clam sauce. BUT DON’T JUST DUMP SAUCE BACK INTO PAN. The reason for pouring the sauce into a measuring cup is to allow the sand to settle to the bottom.
Using a deep spoon or small ladle, ladle sauce back into pan. Leave about 1 or 2 Tbsp of sauce in the measuring cup, as this will likely contain quite a bit of grit.
Add remaining clams and place lid over pan. Steam until these clams open. Remove and keep warm.
When pasta is al dente, drain and add to sauté pan. Toss well with sauce. Plate and add clams en-shell on top, as a garnish. Serve immediately.