saucing the clam



repeat after me: vongole, vong...go...le, like lolita. you get the drift. a clam's a clam, you'd think. a lot depends on your sauce. take red sauce, that old endless insult of menus. shudders. reminiscent of vague concoctions, a close pass by the sink, saw dust paprica or worse. frugal? i like frugal, but not at the cost of a sauce. true, there's all sorts of red sauce. and certainly all kinds of clams. there's bearded, razor and surf, steamers, manilas, round little necks and top necks, cherry stones, quahogs, and the largest simply known as chowders. most all these are farmed and dependent the coast, taste quite alike to the original, the wild one, if you dig it, the mercenaria. i love clams, really all of them, even those wily french ruffles, the much ridged and toothy tight cockles. in italy, wish that i was, i'd eat the tellina fabula, the name says it all.




like grey rocks on a beach at low tide i'd go for the half kilo quahogs, providing they're chopped, their juices reserved to configure the best of the best, a new england clam chowder. creamy, potatoish, on the bacon side, and yes, with butter, better still, with cream added. it's not for the faint, but you'll survive that nor'easter, having this chowder tumble your bowl. in my youth, listen to me, i slurped dozens of icy little necks, quarter sized, no sauce, excepting a touch of mignonette, at nuyawks oysterbar. watching the guys edging the blade at the crack, brut-forcing the rift into halves, the clam in shock of the knife. there's a place in san francisco, swan's oyster depot, just as good, well, almost, since in my hometown it all tastes better, yes, even the clams. east coast clams, choice, juicy, briny deep, poseidon's own, fresh from down the shore, where everything's alright, that would be jersey's own and the boss has me there in a slow rocking, taking that ride 'cross the river to the jersey side. oh, and in love with the jersey girl, shalalalala, shalalalala. shalalalalalala.back to saucing the clam. alle vongole. arguably it would be a tomato sauce. make your own, never mind newman's, from fresh tomatoes, now that it's the season. 'round christmas you'd use italian canned romas, the san marzano kind, just about as good.






there are those wanting a white sauce. it's okay, what with butter, the garlic, broth and clam juice, white wine and parsley, that clam sauce is just not for me. i do my red sauce, sans sink. my paste is tangy and pungent, slow, plump, stately even, no mulligan though. my paprica's dense, deep red, sweet and edgy, my oil fruity, i add some bite with a crush of those red hot peppers, jelly roll morton like. and i slow roast my garlic in the oven, two heads a time, beforehand, darkly sweet, cut in half and squeezed into the melange, like you'd do with a lemon.  if i'm lucky i'll get tiny little necks, , otherwise it'll be the manillas. diced cherry stones would do fine in a pinch. anywhichway (one word) tasty clams are fresh from the ocean, farmed or not. those hanging out in a market's tank have lost their boon. bivalves they are, the in and out of mere tank water might have them alive, though at a loss of their soul, that briny flavor. open the clams over high heat, a spoon of oil as the base. shell them and add them at once to your choice of sauce, red, white, green (pesto), italy's flag in reverse.
linguine, flat 'n narrow, hm, there's many a splendrous kind. the ones you'd want are made of durum, egg or not, i love the raven sort, those made with squid ink. dried, not fresh. the dried have the better bite, which is what i want comes to vongole. cooking pasta, unlike zen, is relatively easy. on a ravishing boil, fresh water three times your pasta's bulk, sea salt, a gentle stir and in minutes you have the stuff al dente. taste it, test it, a strand pulled from the depth should be limp, but not soggily so. add a cup of cold water to kill the boil and colander drain, tumble the 'little tongues' into their sauce and you're ready for  'alle vongole' as pranzo or cena, may be even next day's late colazione.