A Meal For An 'R' Month
Many people have grown up hearing the rule that you should only eat shellfish during months with the letter "r" in their names, ruling out summer — May, June, July, and August — when warmer waters can promote the growth of bacteria that can wind up in the creatures and lead to human illness. That rule even worked fine for me, growing up in Austria, since the only month names without "r" in the German language were the same ones: Mai, Juni, Juli, and August!
Fortunately for me, we lived in southern Austria, not far from Italy. So, when I did eat shellfish, I got to know one of the world's best ways to prepare them: as the Italians do, quickly cooked with olive oil and butter, white wine, lots of garlic, and a pinch of hot pepper flakes, then tossed with pasta.
I love preparing shellfish this way. For the best results, start with absolutely fresh shellfish. The clams should be tightly closed and smell only of fresh seawater.
Head straight home after purchasing and transfer the clams to a large bowl, cover with a damp towel, and refrigerate. Do not submerge live clams in water or put them in a plastic bag. Cook the clams within 24 hours.
About 1-1/2 hours before you start cooking them, scrub the shells with a stiff-bristled brush under cold running water. Soak the scrubbed clams for about 1 hour in a large bowl filled with fresh, cold water — add 1/3 cup of salt and 1/4 cup of cornmeal per 1 gallon of water. This mixture causes the clams to expel any sand left inside their shells, and also lightens the color of their meat. Then lift the clams by hands out of the water, leaving the grit behind.
Finally, you'll be ready to prepare one of my favorite seafood pasta recipes. And you can go on enjoying it during any month with an "r" in its name.
Fettuccine with Clams
Serves 4 to 6
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pasta water
2 shallots, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound fresh live clams in the shell, cleaned
2 sprigs tarragon, leaves stripped
1 sprig thyme, leaves stripped
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1/2 cup dry white wine
12 ounces fresh fettuccine
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Bring a pot filled with lightly salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the shallots and garlic and sauté until translucent, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the chili flakes.
Add the clams, tarragon leaves, thyme leaves, and rosemary sprig and continue to sauté until the herbs are fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to deglaze any pan deposits. Sprinkle to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the pan, raise the heat to high, and continue to cook until the clams have opened, 3 to 4 minutes.
As soon as the water in the pot is boiling, add a drizzle of olive oil and add the fettuccine to the water. Cook until the pasta is tender but still slightly chewy.
Discard the rosemary sprig and any unopened clams. Taste the sauce and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning with a little more salt and pepper. As soon as the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the clams along with the chopped parsley, tarragon and the Parmesan. Toss to combine the sauce, clams, and pasta thoroughly.
Serve immediately. Use tongs to pile the fettuccine into individual large, shallow pasta bowls; then, add the clams and sauce to each serving with a large serving spoon.
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