We are hopefully physically within the borders of Italy by the time this post comes out. So I figured I would do a classic Italian dish today. Spaghetti or linguine a la vongole is my wifeâ€™s favorite pasta. It ranks just a hair above a well made carbonara. She does both of them superbly. The problem is, finding small, fresh and safe clams to use for the vongole. I donâ€™t buy clams in Manila if they come from within 100 kilometers of the city. As bottom dwellers that eat all the muck that flows by in the water, I worry about the quality of water and hence the quality of clams. It is ironic that the best â€œManila clamsâ€ on the planet are actually raised in farms off of Vancouver, British Columbia. These clams are then exported to fine restaurants all over North America and you see recipes that specifically mention Manila clams. If those restaurant owners only knew what images that might conjure in Manila when one looks out onto the bay where millions of gallons of raw sewage empty out every dayâ€¦ My first suggestion, find a GOOD source of clams before you make this dish! Being out of town isnâ€™t a guarantee either as some of the most pristine places have the most horrific fecal matter count. Not to spoil all those fabulous memories of those who have just returned from Boracay, but apparently few places on that island have proper sewage facilities and at certain times of the year swimming in the waters off of Boracay can be less than good for oneâ€™s health. It’s like swimming in a huge toilet bowl. Donâ€™t take big gulps of sea waterâ€¦
So we basically eat linguine a la vongole much less than we would like. At the market two weeks ago, there was a huge bucket of mini clams that would be perfect for vongoleâ€¦ the vendor assured me under threat of crucifiction that they were from a good source in Calatagan and I decided it was worth the risk and purchased several kilos. Back home, I soaked the clams in fresh water and changed the water at least 25 times during the day. The amount of floaties in the water was disconcerting but that just meant they were from a relatively muddy/sandy area. You can also throw in some flour into the water in a bid to fool and upset the clams to make them expel whatever stuff they have in their shells. Despite this careful treatment, some of the clams remained filled with some mud and were inedible. Prepare the following before you start cooking: several tablespoons of chopped garlic (my wife likes more rather than less) and an equal or more amount of chopped white onion. Chop some Italian or flat leaf parsley. Start boiling up some water in your pasta pot on a back burner.
Take a large saucepan, place over high heat, add Â¼ cup water and about 1-1.5 kilos of clams and cover until most of the clams open. Remove any clams that donâ€™t open after a few minutes and any clams that look dubious or have â€œstuff in themâ€. Remove the clam meat from about half of the clams and set aside. Set aside the other half of the clams with shells. Boil down the clam juice left in the pan until about a cup worth or slightly more. Strain this through a sieve lined with a paper towel or cheesecloth. You are now about 15 minutes away from sitting down to dinner. Place your linguine (more classic) or spaghetti in the salted boiling pasta pot and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, heat up a saucepan and add some olive oil and sautÃ© your garlic and onion until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add your clam meats and shelled clams and about Â¾ cup of good white white over medium high heat. Add the strained clam juice and chopped parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the al dente pasta and turn off the flame. Add some pasta water if it looks a bit dry. Mix and place on warm pasta bowls and serve immediately. Do not serve parmesan cheese with this dish. It is delicious, briny, salty and highly flavorful.