Need an idea for dinner tonight, but don’t have much time to fuss around in the kitchen? Then head to a market where you can pick up some Little Neck clams, linguine, and good bacon. With just a few more ingredients, you can assemble a meal as good as any master-chef can make.
6 to 8 ounces linguine (see recipe note)
2-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 slices thick cut bacon, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, according to taste
1/4 cup white wine or dry white vermouth
18 Little Necks (about 2 pounds), cleaned (see recipe notes)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly grated black pepper (optional)
Recipe Note: Before you begin, have all your ingredients prepared as instructed above and ready to cook. Ideally, you want to drain the pasta, just as the clams have finished cooking in the skillet sauce.
To clean clams place them into a large bowl and cover with cool tap water. Let them soak about 20 minutes, to spit out sand and grit. Then brush them individually to remove any surface sand. Always discard any clams that don’t open after full cooking time has passed.
When I served this dish to my husband, he wanted a little more pasta, so I increased the quantity from 6 to 8 ounces. Either amount works fine. 6 ounces will give you a little more luscious sauce in the final dish.
Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a 5 to 6 quart pot. Season lightly with salt. (The clams and bacon will add salt, so use a light touch.) Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before pasta is fully cooked. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water.
As pasta cooks, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until lightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally to brown evenly. Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds more, just until it begins to soften. Add the red pepper flakes, wine or vermouth, and clams.
Increase the heat to high, cover and cook until the clams open, 3 to 6 minutes, depending on the size of clams. As clams open, use tongs to remove them to a bowl.
Recipe Note: You’ll want to remove the clams as soon as they open so they don’t overcook and toughen. So check them frequently, but be sure to recover the skillet after doing so. Discard any that don’t open after 6 or 7 minutes.
After all the clams have been removed, add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the skillet and bring the sauce to a boil. Add the drained pasta to the skillet. Cook over high heat, tossing until the pasta is al dente and has soaked up some of the pan sauce.
Return the clams and any juices from the bowl to the skillet; sprinkle the parsley, and toss gently to combine. (Add more of the reserved pasta water if the sauce seems dry.)
Transfer pasta, clams and sauce to two warm bowls and drizzle each equally with the remaining olive oil. Grate black pepper over each serving, if desired.