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Not your average Clam Sauce


Recently, I enjoyed a pasta dish at a friends restaurant kitchen on Cape Cod. It featured hard shell clams and rigatoni pasta in a butter sauce that was thoroughly delicious and unusual. It got me to thinking about how we traditionally prepare clams here in New England, in this case little neck clams, . Clam chowder is one of my favorites with potatoes and cream. There are others, such as Rhode Island style, with no milk or cream and Manhattan style that is tomato based.

I thought to marry a few of these ideas. Instead of a long pasta like linguini or spaghetti, why not a short pasta such as penne or pennoni? Instead of a broth or olive oil based sauce make it more chowder-like with dairy. Add a textural and flavor component of salty potato chips, instead of grating hard cheese which some prefer. And tomato for color and a sweet acidic punch. To concentrate the flavor of the tomatoes and to keep them from disintegrating in the sauce, roast them first. Another twist, I use fresh clams not canned. Most recipes use canned clams. Admittedly restaurants may use clams in the shell or raw, chopped clams readily available but sourcing fresh little neck clams is the way to go. Fresh clams will be a bit chewier but more flavorful and worth the effort.

Serves 2

Ingredients for the roast tomatoes:

  • 2 pounds medium/large tomatoes, about 4, cored and cut into 8 evenly sized wedges each

  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled, crushed and finely minced

  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt

  • a few grinds of black pepper

Ingredients for the clam sauce:

  • 24 little neck clams, scrubbed clean under cold water

  • 1/2 cup minced sweet or Spanish onion

  • 1/2 cup clam broth, saved from steaming the clams

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 1/2 cup dry Vermouth or other white wine

  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped roasted tomatoes

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed and minced

  • 4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

  • salt and pepper to taste

Other ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound of your favorite short pasta such as pennoni or rigatoni, cooked al dente and drained

  • 1/4 cup crushed, unflavored potato chips. I make these by placing the chips in a sealable plastic bag and use a rolling pin to flatten them, then measure a 1/4 cup of the results

  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Method for the roast tomatoes:

  • place all of the ingredients in a bowl and toss to coat

  • set the wedges, skin side down on a sheet pan and roast in a 225 F oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the tomatoes have shrunk to about half their original size

  • remove from the oven and cool. There will be more than you need, but they are a delicious addition to many other recipes

Method for the clam sauce:

  • place the scrubbed clams in an appropriately sized pot, trying to give them space to open as they cook

  • add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook on medium high heat until they all have opened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool enough to handle, and remove the meats from the shells. Discard any that do not open and reserve 1/2 cup of the clam broth

  • in a large sauté pan, sweat the onion and garlic in the olive oil until softened and translucent, do not brown

  • add the Vermouth, broth, lemon juice, cream, oregano and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly thickened

  • swirl in the butter, then add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper

  • add the clam meats and cooked pasta and heat through

  • divide between two warm serving bowls and sprinkle the crushed potato chips and chopped parsley on top

I believe that you’ll find this delicious and a break from the ordinary. Of course, you can serve it with linguine if that is your preference and it can be dairy free with a few substitutions.

Give it a try, I think you’ll find it to be a delightful change. Enjoy!