ON TASTE AND SPICE
(serves two, generously)
• 200gr spaghetti
• 400-500gr clams
• 1 small tomato
• 2/3 cloves of garlic
• a small glass of white wine
• extra virgin olive oil, salt
• a bunch of parsley
1. As soon as you get home, put the clams in a bowl with some cold salted water so that they release the sand/grit they might have accumulated.
2. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to the packet instructions.
3. While the pasta is cooking, finely chop the garlic and cook it in a pan with a good glug of olive oil over medium heat. To extract all the flavor from the garlic it is better to control the temperature and not go too high. Be careful and don´t let the garlic burn. While the garlic is cooking, scrape the flesh from a tomato or use a grater to grate the tomato against it, as if it were a piece of parmesan cheese.
3. Once the garlic is golden, add the grated tomato and a pinch of salt and cook for 1-2 mins. Add the clams, move the pan around, add the wine, increase the heat to high and put the lid on the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes, having a look and a move around every few minutes to see if the clams have opened. Once they have opened, they are cooked.
4. Mix the cooked pasta with the sauce and add some chopped parsley. Divide among two plates and add a bit of extra virgin olive oil on top, along with a bit more parsley. Enjoy!
There is something quite grown up about going to the fishmonger, ordering some clams for the spaghetti vongole you want to make for lunch and then having a discussion with your sister about whether to use tomato in the sauce, or just go for a sauce "bianca". Tiny details like the fact that you still don't know how many clams two portions require and have to ask the fishmonger to give you clams "for pasta for two", or the fact that neither of you like wine and the little molluscs will be accompanied by two lovely glasses of water don't really need to be mentioned, do they?
Half an hour later we were back home getting things ready. I had my apron on, the clams were obediently waiting in a bowl of cold salted water and Elena was putting things away, when she suddenly saw a jar filled with cayenne pepper that our mother had given us for whatever reason. A strange thing happens every time I see chillies in an italian context. I suddenly get inexplicably excited and start shouting "pepperoncino" with a terrible italian accent and feel the need to chop them and add insensible amounts to whatever I'm cooking just to see those tiny yellow seeds and that dried and shredded red flesh dotting a dish.
This time was no exception, so after the garlic, in went the "pepperoncino" - 2 small ones to be precise. We opted for the "rosso" option for the sauce, because tomatoes are never a bad thing (even if they are now quite past their prime), but never forgetting the white wine which always makes everything taste better. I don't like drinking it, but I LOVE cooking with it.
Finally to top it all of, Elena started toasting some bread slices to make some garlic bread to go alongside the pasta. I have never understood the bread-pasta combination. Don't italians eat pasta like other people eat rice as a substitute to bread? Nevermind, if the bread is toasted, a tiny bit of oil is drizzled over the top, some garlic is rubbed over it and some salt flakes are added to top it all of, I don't mind the carbohydrate-carbohydrate combination. I may even welcome it. But then again, doesn't everything taste better with garlic bread?
Lately, every time we cook at home, instead of enjoying our lunch as normal people do, we end up having a round of Top chef judgement. Elena who has the most developed palate of anyone I know (and is quite critical in general) takes the role of Tom Colicchio and I invariably play the part of the contestant. This time around Miss Colicchio declared that "the tomatoes worked well in the sauce, that the number of unopened clams was acceptable (some can never be avoided), but that the infamous "pepperoncino" had taken over the dish". "It is tasty, but the taste of the clams doesn't come through" she said, in a true Colicchio fashion. I only hope someone else respected the ingredients a bit less than I did so I don't get sent home, but one has to admit that Miss Colicchio, as ever, was right. Don't make the same mistake as I did, unless you intentionally prefer the spice to the clams.