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Favorite recipes/Linguine with white clam sauce
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Favorite recipes: Linguine with white clam sauce

Quick, classic pasta dishes can be life-savers for the hungry wine lover in a hurry. It doesn't take long to make this sort of dinner, but you needn't sacrifice quality for speed. And best of all, pasta is almost invariably wine-friendly, with its culinary roots in Italy where they invented the joyous slogan, "A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine."

What's more, pasta is healthy - assuming you're not worried about the carbohydrate thing - if you'll keep one simple point in mind: Pasta is "calorie dense," so you'll want to be careful not to put more of it into the pot than you need for dinner. Just 2 ounces (60 grams) racks up 200 calories, not counting the sauce. On the other hand, 2 ounces of pasta may be all you need for a decent serving. To keep our intake under control, I like to weigh pasta on a kitchen scale rather than eyeballing the amount.

This dish is an old-time favorite around here, particularly when there's a good, crisp white wine up for tasting. I first made it from Marcella Hazan's "Classic Italian Cook Book" when that favorite volume was new (hard to believe it's copyright 1973), and my version has evolved a bit since then, moving in the direction of fewer steps and a bit less fat. I've made it occasionally with tiny fresh clams in their shells, but to be honest, this is one dish that works quite well with shellfish from a jar or can.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1 6.5-ounce (190 grams) can or jar of minced or diced clams
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped fine
1 large clove garlic, minced
Dried red-pepper flakes
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)
4 ounces (120 grams) long pasta - Hazan suggests fettuccine, but I often use linguine or even spaghetti.


1. Bring a large amount of water to a boil, and add a tablespoon of salt. Don't be shy about salting pasta water: Italian cooks like to make it "as salty as the sea" to give the pasta good flavor. When it reaches a full boil, put in the pasta, stirring gently at first to make sure it doesn't stick together. Long pasta generally takes 8 to 10 minutes to cook - check the package directions but also keep an eye on it, as actual times may vary. You should be able to make the sauce while the pasta is cooking. It doesn't take long.

2. Drain the clams, pouring their liquid into a measuring cup and adding enough warm water to bring the total amount of liquid up to 2/3 cup.

3. Heat the olive oil in a nonstick sautee pan and add the onion, garlic and a small dash of red-pepper flakes. (Use caution - you don't want this dish hot-and-spicy, but just touched with enough red pepper to add a hint of piquancy.) Cook over medium-high heat until the onions and garlic are just starting to color, then add the minced parsley, stir once or twice, and add the white wine.

4. Simmer until the wine is almost completely reduced, then add the reserved clam juice and water. Turn the heat down to very low, add the clams, and cook just until they are warmed through. Don't overcook. Taste and add a little salt if necessary.

5. When the pasta is al dente, drain it well and pour it into the pan with the sauce, turning it gently over medium heat until the pasta is well mixed and every strand coated with the sauce. Add the cheese if you wish. The Italian custom (Hazan to the contrary notwithstanding) is generally not to put cheese with seafood and fish pasta. On the other hand, it's hard to argue with flavor, and a little Parmigiano tastes mighty good with this dish. Italian bread and a salad or green vegetable is all you need to make this a meal.


The sweet clams and light sauce make this an amiable companion with just about any white wine, especially one that's on the dry and crisp side. A Sauvignon Blanc works fine, but I like to match Italian food with Italian wines: A good-quality Pinot Grigio is perfect, for instance; or a Soave, or Vernaccia di San Gimignano, or Greco di Tufo ... really just about any white with a vowel on the end of its name will do.

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Thursday, April 4, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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