Just shy of four months ago (still inspired by a trip to Sicily), Marlini had the very good idea that we should make a Clam Vongole dish, for the simple reason that we are hardcore fish and seafood lovers at heart and clams were an ingredient, I had, not until recently, ever cooked. I am ashamed to say that this was a glaring omission on my part and there was very much the need to remedy this situation. Sadly, my first attempt was thwarted for the very reason that sourcing clams for me had become my new elusive culinary ingredient. Sadly, as it often goes, the more adventurous the idea, the harder the challenge to get certain speciality foods. I do not mean to grumble – the UK is blessed with its diverse cuisines – thank you multicultural Britain – however I am sometimes deterred when the mission to source an ingredient or two can become an onerous and at times fruitless task in terms of results. I am so thankful to not only the ethnic food stores for making ingredients not commonly available in supermarkets within reach, but also grateful to the entrepreneurial and enterprising spirit of some companies who trade online.
Unless you are blessed to live in a coastal area, or have a really good fishmonger, finding clams can either be on the pricier end of the spectrum, or simply impossible to find. I have scoured the fishmonger counter at all the supermarkets near where I leave (it could simply be that clams are not all that popular in Wakefield – I can find no other explanation) and came back empty handed. Plan B (and yes Marlini, I hope you are reading this 😉 involved the best part of a two hour round trip to the excellent Leeds Kirkgate Market (incidentally, the winner of Britain’s Favourite Market for two consecutive years) where pescatareans and fish lovers alike will be spoiled for choice. My personal favourite is S Myer’s Fishmongers who takes immense pride in his trade and is stocked with so much variety. I try and visit 3-4 times a year brandishing a freezer bag and ice blocks (he’ll even vacuum seal individual fillets which is a real value add as it prevents freezer burn completely) and, of course stocks some of the cleanest and juiciest clams I have ever found. As the weight of the shell far exceeds that of the clam itself, do not be too surprised if you feel a sense of ‘is that all I am getting for my hard earned cash?‘ – I am preparing you for the slight disappointment now, so that you can focus on enjoying the end result.
Then, about a month ago, I was rooting around in the supermarket freezer section for some squid and raw tiger prawns, and discovered – frozen clams. As there were just 6 bags there, I swiped the lot which certainly did not go unnoticed. The checkout staff gave me a look as if I was bordering on the somewhat demented, to which I asserted that ‘I was quite the fan of the clam‘. Having made several variations of my Linguine alle vongole with prawns recipe (purists of the traditional Italian recipe I am sure would be appalled with me for dabbling), I can honestly say that, as an alternative, frozen clams work nearly as well. They also save me the best part of a two-hour round trip, which is a very attractive option for those who are largely short-changed in the free time department.
A further challenge for me was to try and adapt the recipe but with one significant omission – the white wine. Due to my respect for Marlini’s faith, I agreed to work without the wine but needed to find a method of substituting the flavour enhancing benefit white wine brings to the dish. If I could have the absolute proof that 100% of the alcohol is burned off or evaporated, and only the taste was left behind – then I am sure that a glass of white wine would have found its way into my Linguine alle vongole recipe. My flavour substitution was the addition of whole shell-on tiger prawns which added a dimension of sweetness not found in clams. The other approach I like to take is to minimize the sheer amount of kitchen kit and caboodle – you can make all of this in a large stock pot instead of depending on multiple pans.
My other slight variation, and this is really a minor thing, is that I always trade Linguine for Spaghetti. Hardly something which is going to take the culinary world by storm, but hey, I prefer it. For anyone wanting to try a more traditional recipe, and the one my version is most closely based, I highly recommend Felicity Cloake’s Spaghetti alle vongole.
Don’t worry, I won’t be at all offended if you prefer the traditional version over my own – variety is the spice of life after all. I hope you enjoy making and eating my Linguine alle vongole with prawns recipe as much as Marlini and me.
- 500 - 600g small clams - fresh or frozen
- 250g large shell on raw tiger prawns
- 350- 400g dried linguine
- 3 large cloves garlic, finely sliced.
- 1 large red chilli pepper, finely sliced
- 2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, blanched*, deseeded, and chopped
- zest of lemon
- 20g butter
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 100ml starchy pasta water
- Juice of 1 lemon
- small bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- freshly milled black pepper.
- First, bring a large pan (I use a stock pot) of water to the boil. Add a teaspoon of sea salt, a splash of olive oil, and add the dried linguine. Boil gently for around 10 mins or until al dente, stirring occasionally to ensure that the linguine has not stuck together. Ladle out around 100ml of the pasta water, then drain the linguine in a large colander.
- Lower the heat slightly, and return the pan to the heat. Add the extra virgin olive oil, followed by the butter. Once melted, swirl the butter and oil, then add the lemon zest, garlic, and red chilli and sweat the ingredients for 3-4 minutes, or until soft.
- Next, turn up the heat add the blanched and chopped tomatoes, clams and raw shell on tiger prawns and cook to a further 2-3 minutes. Add the reserved pasta water, stir all ingredients together, cover and cook for a couple more minutes or until the prawns are pink on both sides, and clams have opened.Sometimes, clams need a little encouragement.
- Reduce heat to low, and add the cooked linguine into the large pan, a handful at a time and stir thoroughly.
- Add the chopped parsley, lemon juice and grind liberally the black pepper. Cover with lid, remove from heat and serve in large pasta bowls.
Carefully remove tomatoes from hot water, and gently peel the tomato skin back from the centre of the cross.