Thursday, July 12, 2012

La Cucina Italiana’s Spaghettini in Little Neck Clam Broth with Cherry Tomatoes or “Umido di vongole con spaghettini e pomodorini”

Clamming, about as Long Island as you can get
         I am big fan of Linguine with Clam Sauce as our recipe search feature will confirm.  So when I saw this recipe for a variation on the theme in the July 2012 issue of La Cucina Italiana, I had to try it.  After all, the Little Neck clam, with which this lovely, light dish is made, is about as local as you can get out here on the East End of Long Island.  It’s especially appealing too because, unlike Linguine with Clam sauce, the recipe includes some great fresh vegetables --  carrots, leeks and tomatoes – and it’s light on the pasta.  In true Italian fashion, La Cucina lists it as a “Primo” or appetizer which is generally the role pasta plays in the Italian menu.  I served it as our main course.  It is a perfect summer pasta dish especially with those bite-sized morsels of heaven, the littlenecks.       
A Clamming Rake is as essential to digging
Little Necks as the beer which generally accompanies
Clamming on Long Island 

         For years, families have clammed here, taking their rakes and digging through the fine sand to pluck these tender-sweet fruits of the sea from their beds at low tide. They look for tell-tale 'bubbles' in the sand where the objects of their affection live.  They zealously guard the locations of their clamming grounds just as they would buried treasure.  It’s a fine pastime usually accompanied by a few beers to accompany the hard work of raking through the sand. 
         When you cook with Little Necks, the key word to remember is "sand".  These creatures burrow in and it’s essential to clean the sand from the interior of the clams or else you’ll have one gritty ‘umido’.  So here’s a technique to use to minimize the sand and maximize the clam. 
A famous photo of 2 Nuns Clamming
in 1957
         When you get your clams home from the market, fill a large bowl with ice and then put a smaller bowl filled with water on top of the ice and put your fresh clams into the bowl. Store in the refrigerator until you are ready to clean them.
As you put them into the bowl, examine your clams and throw out any that are broken and chipped.  If any of the clams are open, gently squeeze to close. If they do not close, they are dead and should be thrown out.
Remove the bowl of clams from the bowl of ice and place on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes. The clams will have dispelled some of the sand during their initial stay in the bowl.  So remove them one by one and throw out the sandy water. Refill the bowl with fresh cool water from your faucet. Add the clams and allow them clams to soak for another 20 to 30 minutes. The clams will clean themselves of any sand they have inside their shells.
Remove the shells from the water one at a time to a plate, preferably using tongs. Do not use a colander to strain the clams. (The sand and dirt they just extracted may settle on the bottom and go right back into the clam shells.)  Your clams are ready to cook. And here’s the recipe, the hardest part of which is cleaning the clams. 
Recipe for Spaghettini and Tomatoes in Little Neck Clam Broth from La Cucina Italiana:
For four “Primi Piatti”  or 2 generous main courses.
     1 small leek, thinly sliced into rounds
     Fine sea salt
     2 1/4 pounds small littleneck clams, scrubbed and washed as above
     1/4 cup plus 3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
     1/4 cup dry white wine
     1/3 pound spaghettini or spaghetti
     1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, cut in half
     1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley plus more for garnish
     1 small carrot, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
                                                             1/3 cup finely chopped green bell pepper 
Wash leek well in a bowl of cold water, agitating it, then lift out and pat dry. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large heavy pot with lid, combine clams, 1 1/2 tablespoons oil and wine.

Cover and cook over high heat, shaking pan occasionally, just until clams open,  7 to 10 minutes. Discard  any clams that do not open). Reserving cooking liquid, transfer clams to a bowl, then strain cooking liquid into a bowl through a cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh sieve. Remove clams from shells; discard shells. 

Cook pasta in the boiling water until al dente. Reserving 1 1/2 cups pasta cooking liquid, drain pasta and set aside (do not rinse). 

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook 30 seconds, then add pasta and parsley; toss just to combine. Remove from heat.
In a second large skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add leek, carrot and bell pepper; cook, stirring frequently, 5 minutes. Add clams, clam juice and pasta cooking liquid; gently simmer until carrot is tender, about 5 minutes. 

Ladle hot broth into bowls; top with pasta mixture and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.


  1. I'm not sure where you're located but I'm assuming it's near waters not polluted by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Living down here during all that has made me shy away from local seafood, especially bottom dwellers - my favorites, of course.

    As usual, your post has started a craving.... but the canned variety of clam will have to do.

    I've wondered if anyone else is still worried about the quality of seafood here. The restaurants I frequent have admitted to buying their seafood from outside the area. The die-hard seafood eaters don't seem to care. It's boiled crab, crawfish and shrimp season right now and every weekend you can smell the pots cookin'. I guess to each his own. Boiled seafood has a way of making you forget all things bad :)

    Thanks AGAIN for a great post!

    KT on the MS. coast

    1. Dear KT, Thanks so much for your comment. You must have missed the fact that I am on the East End of Long Island New York. Fortunately, we have been spared oil drilling off our shores and we are hyper vigilant to any kind of threat to our oyster and clam beds. We even have Trustees whose whole (elected) job is to constantly monitor the waters on both the Peconic Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. While we've had problems with algae bloom and brown tide, we certainly have not faced the questions you have after the BP spill. You might be interested to know that the Gulf Coast is running a lot of Television Advertising extolling the virtues of a Gulf Coast vacation in FL, AL, MS and LA. In every ad you see people chomping on seafood--mostly shrimp. Thanks again for enjoying the blog. All best, Monte