I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for most anything served up in a little parchment packet, but whoa, people, you gotta grab yourselves some clams and get this done. Boy howdy, is it ever something special. I mean, who wouldn’t get excited about their own personal packet of deliciousness in which al dente strands of pasta soak up an incredibly flavorful broth that’s created as your clams cook, tucked into their parchment wrapper with wine, garlic, green onions and crushed red pepper. That was a very long sentence, but deservedly so… this is just lovely stuff, folks.
Now if you’ve never cooked with clams before, nothing could be easier. Just make sure your clams are fresh – they should be closed when you buy them. If you have a reputable fish monger, this shouldn’t be a problem. Keep them on ice in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. I’ve kept them for a couple of days with no ill effects. Do not seal them in a plastic bag or container – the little guys need to breathe. Until it's time to kill them. Geez.
Now, clams also need to be cleaned before you use them cuz they usually have a little sand in them, but this, too, is quite easy. Right before you cook them, place them in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes to an hour and they’ll just spit the sand out. Cute, huh? Some people add cornmeal or salt to the water, but I just used plain cold water and it always gets em clean. If any of your clams are open, give them a gentle tap on the counter; if they don’t close, toss em. They’re goners. Likewise, if any of them stay closed after cooking, give em the heave ho. Not good eats.
And that’s all you need to know about cooking with clams. Except the actual cooking of them, that is. And again, this is super easy cuz it only takes about 5 to 7 minutes for them to cook, open, and offer up their briny goodness.
And oh, what goodness it is. Linguini with clams is one of my dearest food crushes (here’s my recipe), but Mr. Vetri (Rustic Italian Food) has elevated this classic to something rather extraordinary. This is pretty tasty stuff; I think you’ll be as happy and amazed as we were. Here’s the recipe…
Spaghetti with Clams in Parchment
The flavors created inside these parchment packets is really quite extraordinary. The pasta soaks up all of the clam flavors and makes for one very tasty dish. Store your clams on ice in the refrigerator (in an open bag or bowl) for up to 2 days before using them. When ready to cook them, soak the clams in cold water for about an hour to rid them of any sand or grit.
Recipe ever so slightly adapted from Marc Vetri (Rustic Italian Food)
12 ounces spaghetti
8 tablespoons olive oil
4 scallions, trimmed and top quarter removed, sliced crosswise
4 cloves garlic, smashed
About 30 little neck clams or 50 to 60 small clams, cleaned (see headnote)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the pasta, quickly return to a boil, and cook until slightly underdone and chewy, about 7 to 8 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 2 cups of the pasta water.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the scallions and garlic and cook until soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the clams, wine, pepper flakes. Extend the sauce with pasta water as needed. There should be enough to streak the pan's base. Cover and simmer until the liquid reduces in volume by about half, 5 minutes. When the clams have opened, discard the garlic and any empty clam shells.
Add the drained pasta to the pan along with the remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil and the parsley. Cook over medium heat, tossing until the sauce gets a little creamy.Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Tear 4 sheets of parchment paper, each about 2 feet long. Place one-fourth of the pasta mixture in the center of each sheet of parchment. Bring the long sides of the parchment up above the pasta so the edges meet. Fold the edges together and keep folding down until tight over the pasta. Flip over and pull each side of parchment over the center to make a tight packet. Flip back over so the folded seam side is up.
Transfer the packets to a baking sheet and bake until the paper browns lightly, 5 to 7 minutes. If you have convection, turn it on to help the paper brown. Transfer to plates and allow guests to slit open the packets lengthwise with a knife. (We just unwrap them).