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The Heart of New England
Linguine with Clams
by Charlie Burke

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I’ve had linguini with clam sauce in several
restaurants throughout Italy, and no two
have been the same. The best versions
are simple preparations relying
on the distinctive flavors of  few
ingredients. In this dish the parsley
is not used as a garnish - it adds an
important freshness to the pasta.

Italians consider the pasta to be at least as important as the sauce, and their
preparations carefully balance the two. In fact, the sauce is sometimes called “il
condimento”, meaning the sauce is secondary to the pasta, which helps explain
their obsession with using specific pasta shapes and sizes in particular dishes.
Typically, the pasta is slightly undercooked and is added to the sauce for a
couple minutes to incorporate some of the liquid with the pasta. Some of the
starchy pasta water is reserved, to be added if the sauce is too tight. Since the
pasta is so important in this dish, choose high quality Italian brands made from
100% Durham semolina flour and look for a rough surface which helps absorb
the liquid.

We visited Martelli Pasta (, a family run pasta
operation in Lari, a tiny hill town near Pisa. A family member gave us a
personal tour, and explained they use only the finest hard Durham wheat –
from Manitoba! Their pasta is extruded through custom made bronze dies, and
he made a very big deal about the rough surface of his pasta. We brought home
several kilograms and have been able to order from Internet sources since.

Four servings:

24 – 32 littleneck clams (Choose the smallest littlenecks and substitute Manila
clams if littlenecks are unavailable.)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
½ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 – 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound linguini
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup water or dry white wine

Place clams in a large strainer and run cold water through them while shaking
the strainer to rid them of surface sand and loose shell fragments. Discard any
clams which are open and do not close when tapped. Soak clams in cold salted
water for 20 minutes or more. If debris is seen, change
water and repeat. Strain and rinse the clams.

For the pasta, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, adding 2
tablespoons of salt.

Place clams and water or wine into a large sauté pan or frying pan with straight
sides. Cover and cook over high heat; remove cover and check after 4 -5
minutes, removing and setting aside those which are open. Cover and check
every minute or so until all are opened. Discard any which do not open in 10
minutes. The clams will continue to cook in the sauce, so removing them as
they just open prevents
over cooking.

Add pasta to boiling water and stir.  Strain the cooking liquid through paper
towels and reserve. Wipe sauté pan and heat olive oil over medium heat. Add
chopped garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring for 3 -4 minutes. Do not let
garlic brown. Pull sauté pan off heat while pasta cooks.

Check pasta at 6 minutes and continue checking until nearly done. Reserve ¾
cup of the pasta water, then strain pasta (never rinse pasta unless it will be used
in a cold dish).

Add reserved clam broth to the oil and garlic and place over high heat until
boiling. Add clams and linguini. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring and adding
reserved pasta water if necessary – there should be a small amount of liquid in
the pan. Add freshly ground pepper and salt sparingly because there is
considerable salt in the clam broth. Add parsley
and serve immediately, drizzling each serving liberally with your finest extra
virgin olive oil.  

Cheese is never served with this dish in Italy. (Asking for grated cheese for a
fish dish in Italy brings the same quizzical look tourists get when they ask for
cappuccino after noontime!)

Serve with a mixed salad and crusty bread, along with a dry white wine and
enjoy the taste of the sea in this sparse but flavorful sauce.

About the author
An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of
the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association ( and helps
run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows
certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton,
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
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