Recently, on a dark and bitterly cold Tuesday morning, I was inducted into a Secret Society; a Society shrouded in flour and water and sometimes eggs. Yes my friends, I was tapped to join the Noodly Brotherhood.
I showed up dressed in black (with a small white towel… and a tiny apron, fine) in the back of Vespaio – the finest Italian restaurant in Austin. It was 5 a.m., the mythical Pasta Hour. I can’t delve too deeply into details dear readers, but in a multi-hour affair we were anointed with truffle oil, the air was perfumed with burning bay and sage and we were flogged with sheaths of winter wheat, the hardest of the wheats, as you know. And the kneading- oh the kneading was copious and intense. There was also an olive race, but of this I shall not speak.
Painful theatrics aside, I have had the pleasure of hand-making pasta “professionally” for the last few months. Really I’m somewhat of a pasta-whore as I have a borderline unhealthy affinity for the stuff and have been known to do strange things to obtain it. Such as getting a job, making pasta.
Pasta making in a restaurant does have several benefits however. One is that we own a huge pasta machine with the Roller of Doom “Bane of Fingers and Scourge of Board Scrapers”.
The upside being that this industrial beast makes it possible to work dough made of durum flour; a chore that by hand is virtually impossible. The durum gives the finished product a great bite and a particularly nice mouthfeel- closer to the dried pasta you buy rather than the softer homemade varieties.
Another of the perks of this new job is that we end up throwing out a lot of scraps. So on occasion I rescue a few of the stragglers destined for dustbindom and bring them home for a new life of deliciousness. On this particular IMBB occasion, I introduced them to a happy passel of clams and they all hit it off quite nice as Spaghetti alle Vongole.
I’m not a cookbook, so I’m not going to get all numbery and specific with you. I pretty much made it up to fit my tastes and those of the incomparable Mme. Pants. I’ll give you a “so’s it was kinda like this” rundown, though:
Buy some fresh smallish clams. Figure 2/3 to 3/4 of a pound per person. I put them in about a gallon of water with a couple teaspoons of salt added and kept them in the fridge for an hour to purge. Does this help? Hell if I know, but it makes me feel better. And give them a quick scrub before you use them. That’ll make everyone feel better.
Heat up some butter and oil in skillet. Remember, it’s all going in the sauce so only use as much as you want to eat later. Sauté some chopped garlic, a couple pinches of chili flake, and a few torn basil leaves. Give it couple of minutes without harassing it. Check your salt. Always keep checking your salt.
Now deglaze with white wine. Add a can of peeled whole tomatoes that you’ve crushed roughly. Add a cup of stock, preferably seafood, but whatever. Reduce it for ten minutes or so.
Toss in your cool, shiny, freshly brushed clams and a tablespoon of cold butter. Cover the whole crazy, good smelling pan with another skillet or a pie pan or some foil or something MacGyverish that you build out of thumbtacks or some such.
Let it steam for five minutes or until your clam friends open up. Dump in your drained, perfectly al dente noodles. Toss them with the shellfish and sauce and let them all get to know each other for a couple of minutes.
Garnish with parsley and fresh pepper. Serve it up. It’ll make you friends.
And here's a closer look 'cause i know you want one.
As a special bonus addendum to all you people that made it to the end (you probably watch movie credits too) I’m including one of the best, most freaking awesome appetizers of all time. You guessed it, Fresh Mozzarella Grilled on Lemon Leaves. I just can’t get too much capitalization.
It’s super easy. Wipe some clean lemon leaves with olive oil. Put a small piece of fresh mozzarella and a touch of garlic on top. Grill until the cheese melts. Squeeze on a few drops of lemon juice and that’s good antipasti. Booyah.