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 — I’m a whole wheat pasta convert, it has a heartier flavor and it’s good for you. You could use fettuccine too. Or really anything, but those are my usual choices. How much? A handful, I suppose. I’ve always been a bit excessive with pasta as you can tell by the photo.
  • Olive oil
  • Medium to large onion, sliced — I usually half the onion, lengthwise, then half it again but not all the way through, and cut slices from each half.
  • 2-3 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced — This will depend upon the size of your zucchini, but you want more zucchini then onion.
  • Salt to taste
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped or sliced – Again, this depends upon the size of your cloves and your love for garlic. Garlic is a prominent flavor in this dish.
  • 1/4 cup or so white wine, optional
  • 1 or 2 6.5oz cans of chopped or minced clams – You could do more. I only add one can for two people because I don’t want to use all my cans on one meal.
  • Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Oregano — Use several sprigs of fresh if you have it, if not, about 1/2 tsp of dried is a good place to start.
  • 1-2 Tbsp butter
  • Parmesan cheese – freshly grated parmigiana or the green can – I know there’s this supposed Italian rule against cheese with seafood but I don’t always 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.

Saute the onions and zucchini in a large pan. Sprinkle some salt on them to help break them down. Once they’re pretty much done, add the garlic and saute for about a minute. If you’re using white wine, add it now and deglaze the pan, waiting for the wine to cook down a bit.

Meanwhile, add your 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 juice, red pepper, dried oregano (if using) and black pepper to the pan, and let it cook for a few minutes. You just want to warm things through and meld the flavors. Wait until just before adding the pasta to add fresh chopped oregano.

Add the pasta to your pan along with a half a ladle (or more) of pasta water. Pasta water will add some 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 sauciness you want. When you’re done, turn off the heat and add the butter, hiding it under the pasta so it will melt and then mixing it in.

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. Of course, a glass of red wine heightens the whole experience, while cooking and dining. May I suggest the BV Coastal Estates Cabernet Sauvignon which is on sale right now at Lowes Foods for $7.49 (marked down from $12.49).

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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