Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

Do you have a repertoire of pastas that you return to again and again? Pastas that don’t require much brain effort?

Pastas are my soul food. I may be Irish-Lithuanian but I think all those years growing up in southern Massachusetts amidst Italians, visits to the Italian bakery in my grandparents’ East Cambridge neighborhood, and working in and managing Italian restaurants have indelibly marked my taste buds, nose and stomach as Italian territory. I’m okay with that.

This recipe is an old faithful when I don’t have any ideas for dinner, or when the cupboard is bare. I usually have pasta, onions, garlic and canned clams. The zucchini isn’t always in the fridge but it’s an easy enough thing to pick up at the store. I’m lucky that I have a huge planter full of oregano, but dried oregano has served me well enough in the past. Of course, it would be better with fresh clams, maybe some white wine too, but those ingredients aren’t always hanging around.

I’m sorry I don’t have exact quantities for the ingredients, but that’s the beauty of pasta sauces, they’re very forgiving. Do what smells right. This recipe makes enough for two healthy eaters.

pasta to veggie ratio is a little off

Linguine with White Clam Sauce

  • Whole wheat linguine, fettuccine or whatever shape you like — I’m a whole wheat pasta convert, it has a heartier flavor and it’s good for you, but use regular if you’d prefer
  • Olive oil
  • Few slices of bacon or 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped ham
  • Medium to large onion, chopped
  • Optional: 2-3 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced, or chopped 
  • Salt to taste
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped or sliced 
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup white wine (something you would like drinking)
  • 1 or 2 6.5 ounce cans of chopped or minced clams 
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Oregano, thyme and/or parsley — several sprigs of fresh oregano or thyme, or 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley; otherwise 1/2 teaspoon dried of whichever ones you’re using
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated parmigiana or the green can — I know the Italians have a rule against adding cheese to seafood but I don’t subscribe to it.

Put water on, in a covered pot, to boil. I do this as soon as I start chopping; I can always turn it off once it’s ready.

In a large pan, saute the bacon (optional) for a few minutes (if you’re including ham, add it with the onions) before adding the onions and zucchini (optional). Sprinkle some salt to help break them down. Once they’re softened, add the garlic and saute for about a minute. Add the wine to deglaze the pan — scrape up whatever held onto the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Wait for the wine to cook down a bit.

Meanwhile, add the pasta and salt to the boiling water and cook according to the box directions, but only to al dente. Reserve a few ladles of pasta water in a small bowl before draining the pasta.

Add the clams and their juice from the can, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, dried herbs and black pepper to the pan, and let it cook for a few minutes. Wait until just before adding the pasta to add any fresh herbs.

Add the pasta to your pan along with a half a ladle (or more) of pasta water. Pasta water will add starchiness, thickening the sauce. Let it all cook for about a minute or so. Add as much pasta water as you’d like to achieve the level of sauciness you want. When you’re done, turn off the heat and stir in the butter.

Serve with parmigiana (or parmesan) cheese. If you have enough sauce on your plate, it’s really good to sop it up with some bread. 

Tell me about your soul food dishes. Do you have a go-to pasta or another dish that you can make in your sleep?

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