Growing up in Coastal Southern California, seafood is pretty much in my bloodstream, and even though we don't grow clams locally, one of my earliest food memories is of scooping clams out of their shells and dipping the meat (and massive amounts of crusty sourdough bread) in the rich, briny, garlicky sauce in which they were cooked. And as long as you have access to quality seafood (either at your local grocer or at a reputable seafood market), clams are a remarkably easy thing to make.
Steamed clams are great on their own, of course, but I love serving them with pasta, which creates a heartier meal and where that delicious cooking liquid becomes a silky sauce that coats the noodles to perfection. This recipe is adapted from one I found over at Bon Appetit; I streamlined a couple of steps and, of course, changed it to use one of my small batch, handcrafted spice blends, namely my Frutti di Mare Spice Blend.
But enough talk, let's get to cooking, shall we?
Linguine and Clams
2 pounds littleneck clams
8 cloves garlic, divided
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon lemon zest or finely minced preserved lemon peel
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Frutti di Mare Spice Blend, divided
1 medium shallot
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 pound linguine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Fill a large mixing bowl with one gallon of cold water and 1/3 cup kosher salt. Stir to dissolve the salt. Place the clams in a colander and then set the colander inside the big bowl so that the clams are covered with the salt water. Soaking the clams like this for 20 minutes to and hour will allow them time to purge any sand from their shells, and keeping them in a colander (rather than just in the bowl with the salt water) makes it easier to remove them from the dirty water without covering them in sand again. Remove the colander full of clams from the salt water and use a hard bristle brush to scrub the clams to remove any remaining dirt or barnacles. Rinse with cool water and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt.
Finely mince one clove of garlic and place it in a small bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/2 tablespoon Frutti di Mare Spice Blend. Stir the mixture to combine and set aside.
Slice the remaining garlic cloves into thin slices and mince the shallot. In a large Dutch oven, heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat and add the minced shallot and sliced garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until the shallot starts to soften. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of Frutti di Mare Spice Blend and stir to coat. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until you have just about a couple tablespoons of liquid left. Add the clams and stir to coat with the aromatics. Cover and steam 5-7 minutes. The clams will pop open when cooked. Transfer the open clams to a bowl, leaving any juice in the pot. If any clams are still closed, put the lid back on the pot and steam them a couple of minutes longer. Transfer open clams to bowl with the others, and discard any clams that haven't opened at this point. Tent the bowl of clams with foil to keep warm.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for about half of the time suggested on the package. Use a ladle or heatproof measuring cup to scoop out 2 cups of pasta water and set it aside. Drain pasta and add it to the pot with the clam liquid. Add 1 cup of pasta water and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring regularly, until pasta is al dente, and the sauce starts to look glossy and coats the noodles.
Remove the pot from the heat and add the butter, tossing to melt and combine. Add about half of the breadcrumbs and toss to combine. Add a splash of pasta water if it feels/looks a little dry. Divide pasta among 4 large, shallow bowls, top with clams and remaining breadcrumbs. Serve immediately with some crusty warm bread and a lovely dry white wine.