Wednesday is my Sunday. It’s the only day of the week that I’m sure to be off from work ,and usually all I want to do is relax at home with my cat asleep on my lap, or run around the park with Sadie. So lately, we’ve just been ordering in or eating at someplace local on my night off. Thing is, the eatery options in Eastern Queens are pretty, well, blah. (Any foodie neighbors with suggestions please let me know!) There are a couple of good pizzerias, a decent Indian restaurant, and several late night diners, but this girl can’t live on pizza, curry, and burgers alone. Oh what I’d give for an authentic Mexican joint that’s not run by the Chinese take out folks next door! There’s nothing like having a craving for something good and ending up with a bland and disappointing meal. It’s enough to drive a lazy cook back into her kitchen!
So this week, when I had a craving for seafood, I decided to take matters into my own hands. At least if the meal was a flop, I would have no one else to blame but myself. I have to say, I wasn’t planning on getting clams. Pretty much every clam we’ve eaten in New York has had an unpleasant and bitter metallic finish that is unlike any clam we had in New England. But today I was visiting a new fishmonger who had both farmed Long Island clams, and wild caught Connecticut clams. He seemed to think the bitterness could be from the farmed clams. I was skeptical, but decided to gamble on the wild Connecticut clams and took a dozen of them home. Although they weren’t as sweet as Rhode Island clams, they certainly didn’t have a strong bitter finish, and I think the preparation helped to mask it.
At first I was going to go with a simple linguine and white clam sauce, but when I got home, I realized that I didn’t have any white wine. I did have an open bottle of pinot noir, plenty of beer, red pepper and chorizo, so I ended up going in a more Spanish inspired direction. Improvising can be tricky, and believe me I’ve had my fair share of flops, but sometimes things do work out. Here’s the recipe, approximately:
INGREDIENTS (serves 2 very generously):
4-5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large spanish (yellow) onion, diced small
1 large red bell pepper, diced small
3-4 cloves garlic
pinch of saffron
4 oz. dry chorizo sausage, diced small
1/2 lb. dry linguine or other pasta
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 c. medium bodied red wine
1/4 c. lager beer
crushed red pepper
1 dozen small clams, such as cherrystones or liittlenecks, scrubbed clean
1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley
1-2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
salt and pepper
1. First make a sofrito: In a medium sauce pan over low-medium heat, slowly cook the onions and red pepper in plenty of olive oil and a little salt until they are very soft. The onions should be transparent, and there should be no browning of the vegetables. Then add the garlic and saffron, and cook for another 30 seconds until the garlic is fragrant. Then add the chorizo and cook for another 5 minutes to develop the flavors.
2. While the sofrito is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta. Place the chopped tomatoes in a colander, and drain the pasta into it, reserving 1/2 cup or so of the cooking liquid. Toss the pasta and tomatoes in a little olive oil to prevent it from sticking.
3. Add the wine, beer and crushed red pepper to the sofrito and turn the heat to high. As soon as the liquids come to a boil, add the clams, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Periodically give the pan a little shake until the clams steam open. Remove the clams and set aside, discarding any that do not open.
4. Add the fresh herbs to the pan and reduce the cooking liquid slightly. Season to taste, and toss with the pasta and clams, adding some of the pasta cooking liquid if necessary.
NOTES: Use good quality olive oil. It is a big flavor component in the sofrito, and if it doesn’t have good flavor, the finished product definitely won’t. The same goes for the beer and wine. Use stuff that tastes good enough to drink. The clams will absorb their flavors, and when the liquids reduce during cooking, the flavors will intensify as well.