May it Please the Palate: Happy as a Clam

Ollie the Oyster died, and being a good oyster, went to heaven. At the Pearly Gates, St. Peter issued her harp. Ollie asked if she could go back to earth to say goodbye to her friend Sam the Clam. St. Peter relented, as long as she returned by midnight --or else she'd have to go to Oyster Purgatory.

Ollie went to visit Sam at the nightclub he owned, and had so much fun she barely made it back to heaven by midnight. When she arrived, she was distraught. "What's wrong?" asked St. Peter. Ollie wailed, "I left my harp in Sam Clam's disco!"

I hope you don't think that joke was a clam. (In musician's parlance, especially trumpet players, a missed note is referred to as a "clam.") Because I want my readers to be as happy as a clam at high tide. As you may know, at low tide, clams are mired in sand and mud, leaving them vulnerable to clam diggers and other predators. But at high tide they float free! And are happy!

Fortunately for us, our clam digger friends have caught enough of these mollusks to give us yummy seafood recipes. I got to thinking about clams when I wrote a column a couple of weeks ago, referring to the "shellfish fad" of the early 20th century, and I got a hankering for linguine with clam sauce. I made some and it was delicious.

Pierre Franey, the late French chef, is best known for his column in The New York Times "The 60 Minute Gourmet." His version uses the clam juice right in the water to boil the pasta, rather than in the sauce, to ensure that the final dish has the correct consistency but still has full flavor. Plus it's incredibly fast and easy to make.

Linguine in Clam Sauce

four servings

36 littleneck clams

1 pound linguine

1/3 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

(1) Open the clams or have them opened. Save both the clams and their juice. There should be about 1 cup clams and 1-1/2 cups clam juice. Chop the clams coarsely and set aside. (*If you want to save time, ask your seafood monger for a cup of shelled, chopped clams with 1-1/2 cups juice. Monaghan's in Ann Arbor will do this.)

(2) Add 6 cups water, plus the reserved clam juice, to a pot for cooking the linguine. Bring to the boil and add the linguine, cooking until tender but al dente.

(3) Heat the oil in a skillet and add the garlic. Cook briefly, stirring, but do not brown. Add the chopped clams and cook, stirring, briefly. Add the parsley and pepper flakes and cook briefly.

(4) Add the drained linguine and toss to blend. Spoon out into hot soup bowls. Serve equal portions of the sauce that concentrates on the bottom of the skillet onto each serving.

Franey concludes, "A brief sprinkle of more olive oil on the dishes before serving is not amiss."

You may also want to add fresh grated cheese, crusty bread, and--if you must - a vegetable. Just don't eat too many clams, or your stomach might rise and fall with the tide.

Bet you 20 clams you want me to clam up right about now.

Published: Thu, Jun 21, 2012

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