The thing about dating an Italian is that you will always eat well. The standards for food–at home, in restaurants, on the road, anywhere, really–are raised to the very highest. These are a people who talk obsessively about food while cooking it, eating it, digesting it. They talk about what they’re going to make, they talk about it while they’re making it, they talk about it when they bring it into the party, they talk about it after it’s all gone. And mostly they’re just complaining. Complaining that the food isn’t as good as it is back home. The substandard water has ruined the pasta. They couldn’t get the exact brand of burrata they were searching for. The sauce doesn’t taste like their mother’s. Yet throughout this litany, they are also really, really enjoying their food. They are complimenting the cook, complimenting themselves, praising the smells, praising the textures, praising the animals that became their meal. In the middle of all of this are no fewer than twenty-five references to Berlusconi. And then it’s onto coffee. Italian. Only. It’s a race to the finish, the whole experience, with hardly an opportunity to get a word in edgewise–breathless, breathtaking, and always fun.
The first meal an Italian ever made me was the simplest one: spaghetti with clams. I was curious to know what else one did with a clam exactly. I never ate clams growing up, despite being a near-native Floridian. Our kitchen, I suppose, was more of an ode to our midwestern roots. I never even remember eating fish at home. So clams were somewhat of a novelty, usually just the pièce de resistance of the rich velvety chowders we used to order in restaurants.
I was in another room while this dish was being prepared for me, and it was like an auditory rainbow. I had never heard food being made quite like that before, and it seems unbelievable that little more than two ingredients can make a melody like this one.
Spaghetti alla Vongole
I admit to bastardizing this recipe a bit, with the addition of bread crumbs and parmesan. Surely the Italians would be horrified.
- 40 clams
- 1 box spaghetti
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs (optional)
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
- ground pepper
Cook pasta according to directions, approximately 8 minutes. While it is cooking, prepare the bread crumbs. Heat butter over low heat, add bread crumbs and stirring continuously to prevent them from burning. When they are golden brown, remove from heat and set aside.
In a pot, add the olive oil, garlic and onion and cook over medium heat. When the onion is translucent, add the white wine, and cook for 1 minute, then add the clams. Stir once and cover, steaming them for 6 minutes or until fully opened. While waiting for the clams, remove pasta and strain. add a bit of olive oil and the parsley and toss. When the clams are ready, add the clams, toss again and top with the bread crumbs, parmesan, and freshly ground pepper to taste.