I recently had a lovely chat with Lidia Bastianich, one of my favorite cooking teachers, through the magic of TV. For her last meal, she would gather ’round the family under a fig tree. Duh.
She also might have one of my all-time favorite dishes, linguine with clams. My mother makes this dish every Friday night, though she uses spaghetti. Below, Lidia’s Naples-inspired recipe for the same dish, but with vermicelli! Ah, crazy Italians…
Lidia Bastianich’s Vermicelli with Clam Sauce
3 1/2 pounds littleneck clams
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher sea salt, or to taste
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
10 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes
1 cup tomatoes al filetto — fresh or canned plum tomatoes seeded and sliced in thin strips
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 pound vermicelli
A clam- or oyster-shucking knife, or other knife with a sturdy, short, sharp blade
A heavy-bottomed skillet or saute pan, 14-inch diameter or larger
A large pot, 8-quart capacity or larger, with a cover, for cooking the pasta
Put the clams in a single layer on a tray or platter, and freeze them for about 1/2 hour. Working over a bowl to catch every drop of clam liquor, open the clams with the shucking knife, cut the meat free from both half-shells, and let the meat and liquor fall into the bowl.
Strain the collected clams through a sieve over a small bowl or measuring cup. Let the sediment in the liquor settle, then pour off the clean liquor on top — 1/2 cup or so — and save for the sauce. Chop the clams roughly into large pieces.
Before starting the sauce, begin heating the pasta-cooking water — at least 6 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt.
Pour 1/2 cup of the olive oil into the big skillet, and set over medium-high heat. Scatter in the sliced garlic, heat to sizzling, and sprinkle over it the peperoncino. Cook another minute, add the sliced tomatoes and the reserved clam liquor, stir, and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes and stir in the clams. Return to the boil, and cook at a bubbling simmer for 3 or 4 minutes — if the clams release a frothy scum, scoop it off the surface and discard. When the sauce has achieved a nice density, lower the heat, and season with salt to taste. Stir in the parsley and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
With the pasta water at a rolling boil, drop in the vermicelli when the clams are cooking in the sauce. Cook briefly, and lift the pasta from the pot while still quite al dente, let it drain briefly, and drop it onto the simmering sauce. Toss the vermicelli in the sauce for a couple of minutes, until the pasta is cooked through and dressed with the sauce and there’s no soupiness in the pan. Serve immediately.
— From Lidia’s Italy: 140 Simple and Delicious Recipes from the ten places in Italy Lidia Loves Most, published by Knopf.