Winds blow through bare tree limbs, chilling you to the bone, making you long for bowls of hot, comfort food. Of course, a microwavable meal might be in your kitchen, but a freshly cooked meal is always more satisfying. Making pasta with delicious clams and healthy vegetables will warm you up. Quick and easy, it requires only one pot.
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The fewer pots and pans you need to prepare a meal, the quicker the cleanup. Using already cooked pasta is an easy starting point. Live clams purchased from a quality seafood purveyor will yield a fresh-from-the-sea brininess.
Fresh green beans have a pleasing crunch when cooked with the same al dente finish as the pasta. The dish can flexibly use different vegetables. If green beans are not available, use any number of greens from leafy spinach to broccolini, kale or shredded escarole.
Sometimes clams are sold in plastic mesh bags placed on beds of ice. At other stores, they are kept in tanks with circulating cold salt water. Unfortunately, buying clams can be a hit-or-miss proposition. From the outside, good and bad clams look pretty much the same. The only way to determine whether the clams are as good as they can be is to buy and cook them. This is why it is useful to have developed a relationship with a seafood market you trust.
Only use small clams, approximately 2 or 3 inches across. Larger clams are better used cooked, removed from the shell and chopped. Steamers, a deliciously sweet clam, require some finger work to remove the skin covering the foot, so manila, little neck or butter clams are easier to prepare and eat.
Clams with Pasta and Green Beans
Purchase the clams from a quality seafood market. Fresh clams have a wonderfully clean flavor. If the clams are in a salt water tank, pick as many clams as you can that are open. When you use the slotted spoon to remove them from the water, they will close, indicating they are very much alive.
Finding good green beans depends on the season and the purveyor. Always buy green beans that are firm and unblemished. For some reason, in Southern California where I live, green beans from farmers markets are often not as good as those found in Asian markets. At Marukai, a local Japanese market in West Los Angeles, the green beans are consistently firm and unblemished.
If substituting spinach, trim the root ends and rinse well to remove all sand and grit, then roughly chop and add at the same time as the clams. If using broccolini, cut off the stems, peel and cut into thin rounds, then add the peeled rounds and florets on the bottom of the pot with olive oil and lightly sauté before adding the clams. If using kale, cut the leafy part off the center rib and roughly chop and sauté in the pot with olive oil before adding the clams. If using escarole, shred and sauté in the pot with olive oil before adding the clams.
If clams are not available, freshly peeled and deveined raw shrimp are a good substitute. If using raw shrimp (peeled and deveined) instead of clams, sauté for one minute and add the green beans and pasta. Stir well. The shrimp will cook in 2 to 3 minutes. For additional sauce, add homemade seafood stock and butter (optional).
Not everyone enjoys bacon, but if you do, bacon and clams make wonderful partners in this dish.
For more sauce, add homemade stock, preferably one made with fresh fish or shellfish.
If fresh clams and green beans are not available, frozen can be substituted. The result will be good but not as good if both are fresh.
Prep time: 10 minutes (if using cooked pasta) or 20 minutes (if using uncooked pasta)
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes (if using cooked pasta) or 30 minutes (if using uncooked pasta)
Yield: 4 servings
4 pounds live manila, little neck or butter clams
1 pound uncooked or 4 cups cooked pasta, fettuccini, spaghetti, penne, fusilli or ziti
1 pound fresh green beans, washed, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 slice bacon (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup fish or shellfish stock (optional)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)
1 tablespoon capers, drained
2 scallions, washed, ends trimmed, cut into rounds (optional)
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cayenne powder to taste (optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Rinse the clams in a strainer to remove any surface sand and grit. Set aside.
2. If cooked pasta is not available, add kosher salt to a 4-quart pot, bring to a boil, add a 1-pound box of pasta to the boiling water, stir well and cook until al dente in about 10 minutes. Taste to confirm the doneness. Put a strainer over a large bowl in the sink and drain the pasta, reserving the salted pasta water. Toss the pasta to prevent sticking and set aside.
3. To cook the green beans, either use the salted pasta water or fresh water with kosher salt in a 4-quart pot. Bring the water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook 5 minutes. Strain and discard the salted water. Set the cooked green beans aside.
4. If using bacon, heat the pot on the stove-top on a medium flame. Lay the bacon slice on the bottom. Turn frequently to evenly brown. When crisp, remove the bacon and drain on a clean paper towel. Set aside. Leave the bacon fat in the bottom of the pan.
5. Place the pot on the stove-top on a medium flame. Add olive oil, unless bacon was chosen, in which case the bacon oil will suffice. When hot, add the alternative greens as directed above and then the clams and cover. Cook 5 minutes. Remove cover and stir well.
6. The clams will begin to open and give off liquid. Add the homemade seafood stock if more sauce is required. Add sweet butter if desired. Stir well and continue cooking on a medium flame.
7. Add green beans or the alternative greens as directed above. Stir well.
8. Add capers. More of the clams will open.
9. Add the pasta. Stir well. Remove whichever clams do not open and discard.
10. At this point the dish can be served or it can be set aside for up to an hour before serving.
11. When you are ready to eat, taste the sauce and adjust seasoning with sea salt, black pepper and cayenne (optional). Because the clams and bacon (optional) are salty, additional sea salt might not be required.
12. Transfer pasta and clams to a serving bowl. Top with crumbled crisp bacon (optional), scallions (optional) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional).
Main image: Little neck clams with pasta and string beans. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt