small pinch of chopped garlic
small pinch of chili flakes
medium pinch of chopped onion
medium pinch of pancetta
4 oz. linguine per serving
A big handful of clams
Linguine with Clams
NOTE: the ingredients and preparations in this recipe are approximate—experiment with proportions to make it to your taste.
If you're tempted to make linguine with clams according to the kitchen's preparation, you should understand that the only ingredient that's measured is the pasta. (A serving is four ounces.) Everything else is what you pick up with your fingertips, and it's either a small pinch or a large pinch or something in between: not helpful, but that, alas, is the way quantities are determined in a restaurant.
The downside of measuring by hand is what happens to the hands. At the end of an evening your fingertips are irretrievably stained with some very heady aromatics, and there's nothing you can do to eliminate them. You wash your hands. You soak them. You shower, you scrub them again. The next day, they still stink of onion, garlic, and pork fat, and, convinced that everyone around you is picking up the smell, you ram them into your pockets, maniacally rubbing your fingers against each other like an obsessive-compulsive Lady Macbeth.
Begin by roasting small pinches of garlic and chili flakes and medium pinches of the onion and pancetta in a hot pan with olive oil. Hot oil accelerates the cooking process,and the moment everything gets soft you pour it away (holding back the contents with your tongs) and add a slap of butter and a splash of white wine, which stops the cooking. This is Stage One—and you are left with the familiar messy buttery mush—but already you've added two things you'd never see in Italy: butter (seafood with butter—or any other dairy ingredient—verges on culinary blasphemy) and pancetta, because, according to Mario, pork and shellfish are an eternal combination found in many other places: in Portugal, in amęijoas na cataplana (clams and ham); or in Spain, in a paella (chorizo and scallops); or in the United States, in the Italian-American clams casino, even though none of those places happens to be in Italy.
In Stage Two, you drop the pasta in boiling water and take your messy buttery pan and fill it with a big handful of clams and put it on the highest possible flame. The objective is to cook them fast—they'll start opening after three or four minutes, when you give the pan a swirl, mixing the shellfish juice with the buttery porky white wine emulsion. At six minutes and thirty seconds, you use your tongs to pull your noodles out and drop them into your pan—all that starchy pasta water slopping in with them is still a good thing; give the pan another swirl; flip it; swirl it again to ensure that the pasta is covered by the sauce. If it looks dry, add another splash of pasta water; if too wet, pour some out. You then let the thing cook away for another half minute or so, swirling, swirling, until the sauce streaks across the bottom of the pan, splash it with olive oil and sprinkle it with parsley: dinner.