Imagine for just a moment that you are seated in a trattoria anywhere in Italy. Maybe you’ve spent the day at the beach or site seeing, but in either case you’ve worked up an appetite and decide to treat yourself to a delicious bowl of pasta. You choose the sauce. Maybe you want something simple like arrabbiata, a spicy red sauce. If you are in Tuscany you may want a bolognese. In Rome? Oh then it’s Amatriciana or Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara or Gricia. You can’t go wrong with any of them.
Now if you are in the south, then you are probably seated along the coast somewhere. Can you feel the breeze? Are you watching the sun set and sipping a beautiful wine? I bet you are. And perhaps you’ve ordered pasta with clams.
Why does pasta taste so divine in Italy? First of all, they serve you the right portion, often 100 grams per person which leaves you satisfied but not stuffed. Remember that pasta is usually just a first course. And then it’s the ingredients. Local, full of flavor and often married with a delectable olive oil that is used to finish the pasta, unless of course they sneak in some butter :).
Ok, the scene is set and you have finished the pasta but alas, there are remnants of that glorious sauce at the bottom of your dish. What to do? It just cannot go to waste! So, you do what we do here in the states and use bread to soak up every last ounce of that liquid gold. It’s not a pretty picture, I know, but this is what we do.
Now, imagine if you created a recipe that was inspired by that last bit – the bread soaking routine. Doesn’t that sound pretty clever? I think so. With peak tomato and corn season about to wave us all goodbye, I am offering up this last gasp summer recipe that you can serve when you want something simple, delicious and a little lighter than a bowl of pasta that will still leave you completely satisifed. It might even transport you to the coast of Italy if you’re lucky.
The recipe comes from a beautiful cookbook, Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden (with Martha Holmberg). My nephew, Josh gave it to me for Christmas when he pulled me as his secret Santa! The book is divided into, wait for it – 6 Seasons, with summer broken into 3, early, mid and late. The recipes largely celebrate vegetables but there are plenty of meat and fish dishes in the book to make it suitable for anyone. The photography is also gorgeous and there are so many recipes I have wanted to try. This one happens to be the first if you can believe it and based on the results, I will definitely be digging into this book much more this Fall. The book is Joshua’s first and it won a James Beard award in 2018. You can read more about Joshua here.
Today’s recipe appropriately comes from the Late Summer section as we approach Labor Day Weekend (sniff). Garlic cloves are smashed and just lightly browned in some olive oil. To that, some good quality tomato paste is added, along with fresh scallions, a mix of cherry tomatoes, halved if they are large, a pinch of chili flakes and a few tablespoons of unsalted butter (told you!). Once that’s had its moment to mix and mingle and just soften ever so slightly, fresh clams are added along with some wine and allowed to steam until they open. From there, the addition of freshly chopped parsley, fresh corn from the cob (or use a good quality frozen if need be) and a squeeze of lemon finishes the dish.
While you waited for the clams to open, you drizzled some bread with olive oil on both sides and grilled it until crispy, after which you rubbed it with a freshly peeled garlic clove for added flavor.
To finish the dish, place the toast in a shallow bowl, and spoon the clams, tomatoes, corn and all the sauce you want on top. Sit and enjoy with a knife and fork or just eat it with your hands as you prefer.
When I made the dish, I used Top Necks which my local market ordered for me. They were a tad big like a cherrystone. Use the smallest you can find as there will be more clams to spread out on the toast and hold all the delicious sauce.
And although Joshua suggests this recipe serves 4, I would say it serves more like 2 with maybe a smidge leftover.
So when you find yourself in the mood for something really delicious but not too filling, that reminds you of being somewhere beautiful and maybe being on vacation, this is definitely a dish to try. By the way, I was thinking this may just work with mussels or some really beautiful shrimp as well if you are not partial to clams or cannot find them in your market!
Here’s my photo – not the best image when you are trying to get it on the table while it’s hot! Can you see the toast poking out at the bottom?
Please let me know if you give the dish a try! I hope you do.
Until next time…
Three Years Ago: Ina’s Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
Four Years Ago: Fusilli with Eggplant, Fresh Tomatoes and Parsley
Five Years Ago: Chicken Provence
Six Years Ago: Fettucine with Fresh Corn Pesto and Bacon
Seven Years Ago: Back to School Guacamole
This recipe is from the cookbook, Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden, with Martha Holmberg. I've adapted the wording ever so slightly. This dish celebrates both the waning days of summer and the marriage of a great sauce with a good piece of bread for dipping. Serve it as a first course, or as a main dish. I haven't tried it with shrimp or mussels, but I think they could work well if you are not able to find clams near you. Enjoy!
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 1 Tablespoon best quality tomato paste
- 1 bunch scallions, trimmed (including 1/2 inch off the green tops), sliced on a sharp angle
- 8 ounces cherry tomatoes (mix the colors and varieties), halved if large
- 1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound small clams, rinsed
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup lightly packed parsley leaves
- 2 large ears corn, kernels removed (about 1 1/2 cups)
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Four 1/2-thick slices country bread, drizzled with olive oil, grilled and rubbed with garlic.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic and cook slowly to toast the garlic so its very soft, fragrant, and nicely golden brown but not burnt, about 5 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for another 30 seconds or so, stirring and scraping so the tomato doesn't burn but does get a bit darker. You may want to give it a quick whisk. Add the scallions and cook, stirring, until they start to get fragrant and soft, another minute or so.
- Add the tomatoes, chile flakes, and butter, and season with salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring the tomatoes occasionally until they start to burst and render their juices, another 3 to 4 minutes. You want them to retain some of their shape so err on less time.
- Add the clams and wine, cover the pan, and cook until the clams all open. This could take anywhere from 2-6 plus minutes depending on the size of your clams. If some open ahead of others, you can remove them and continue cooking the stubborn ones for another minute or two, but if they don't open after that you should discard them.
- With all the clams happily in the pan, time to finish the sauce wit the parsley, corn, and lemon juice. Taste and adjust with more salt, black pepper, chile flakes, or lemon juice.
- Arrange the grilled bread on plates or in shallow bowls and spoon the corn and clams over the top, dividing the juices evenly, too. Finish with a generous drizzle of olive oil, and serve with a knife and fork, and a bowl for empty shells. Enjoy!
JUST in time for the big weekend! I just added this to our menu!!! Thanks, Val!!