We all have certain dishes that we gravitate toward when we're feeling a little less than 100%. Foods that wrap us up in a big culinary hug and tell us everything will be okay, and we'll feel better soon.
Toward the end of last week a small battalion of germs had infiltrated my body, taking over my sinuses and my throat and sending little ache-inducing recon teams throughout the rest of my system. Nothing was tasting right, so I wasn't all that excited about making dinner, but hey, my family has to eat. They get cranky if they don't.
So I turned to our freezer. Freezerzzzzzzzzz, actually. We have two. Three, really, but my husband has the chest freezer hooked up to a temperature regulator at various times during the year for various beer-making projects, so we can't store food in it. So we've got the little one above the fridge in the basement, and the freezer of our side-by-side fridge/freezer.
We try to make good use of our freezer space every summer by packing away and freezing vegetables (especially the tomatoes), bases for pesto, and chili pastes. We also make lots of stock – chicken, beef, and assorted seafood stocks.
And we stockpile clams. Lots of clams. Clams in their stock…
The clams – hardshell clams called Quahogs – were dug and frozen this summer. Bill does the digging. Not that I wouldn't help, but I'm too short to be of much use. Bill's got a secret spot where he digs. And by digging, I really mean raking. Bill goes out into the bay, clam basket in tow, clam rake in hand, and finds the clams some of the time just by feeling the sand with his toes, and the rest of the time by carefully raking through the sand with a clam rake – an odd contraption that's actually part rake and part basket. Anyway, Bill goes waaaaaaaaay out into the water, up to his chin (or his nose, when the waves come in), to dig, and at 6' 2", he can go out a lot farther than most people can, including me.
Last summer he brought the kids along.
Alex was a huge help, taking his job very seriously.
Julia? Well, Bill told me that at one point he looked up and there was Julia, head back, one hand trailing in the water, feeding herself cheese puffs with the othe other. But hey, she was only five. I'm sure she'll be more enthusiastic this year.
Anyway, when the clams arrive, they get rinsed off, scrubbed a bit more if necessary, and sorted. If there are littlenecks (the smallest legal size), we eat them that day, raw.
The rest go into a big pot – I mean a really big pot…
Like last Thursday night.
We had packed away at least a dozen freezer bags containing clams and 2 cups of clam stock. We also had additional bags of stock without the clams.
On Thursday, I took one of the four remaining bags of clams out and thawed it slowly in the microwave until I could separate the clams.
I'd frozen between 10 and 12 clams in each bag, in case you were wondering.
I took these clams out of the broth and put them in the food processor.
While the water heated up, I started making the sauce. I don't measure, usually, when I'm making something simple like this. But I'll try to ballpark it for you.
First, a couple tablespoons of butter. Salted? Unsalted? I don't remember. Just taste as you go. If it needs more salt, add it. If it doesn't, don't.
Melt the butter.
Add a good splash of white wine about now, if you'd like.
Whisk as you add the stock, unless you're holding a camera, in which case you can wait until you've finished.
Let the mixture simmer slowly. At some point during all of this, your water should come to a boil and you should salt it and add the pasta and cook it.
When the pasta is nearly ready, add the chopped clams to the sauce.
You don't want to actually cook them in the sauce because they're already cooked. You just want to warm them up.
This would also be a good time to taste your sauce and season it if you'd like to. Add some salt and pepper if you'd like. I did. I also thought it needed a bit of brightness. Something citrus.
I just used a little of the zest.
And that was all I wanted last Thursday. Another night I might have added some dill…or some lemon thyme…or some coriander. Just go with what tastes good to you while you're cooking. Add a little at a time, and taste. If you want more, you can add more. If you've got too much, well, you'll have to figure out a way to balance it. It's all part of the excitement of cooking!
Anyway. When you're done tasting, scoop your pasta out of the water and add it to the sauce. At this point it should still be ALMOST done. The idea (at least this was my idea and I'm sharing it) is to finish the pasta in the clam sauce so it can absorb some of the flavor.
You'll need to ladle in some of the water from the pasta pot as well, because as the pasta absorbs sauce, your liquid to pasta ratio will change. Just add enough so that the level of the sauce is just at the height of all that pasta in the pan. Eyeball it. Don't add a lot or it'll become too watery and diluted. Trust your instincts. Use the force. All that stuff works. Really!
And then, when your pasta is done to your liking, call the family to the table and dish it up.
Now, I know some people believe that seafood + cheese is WRONG and BAD and JUST NOT DONE IN POLITE SOCIETY, but I'm not one of them. I firmly believe that cheese belongs on pasta and if there happens to be seafood there, too, well the seafood is just going to have to accept the cheese. It's the 21st century, seafood. Get over yourself.
But that's just me.
I only bring it up because if you are NOT comfortable with cheese and seafood sharing the same pasta, then the following images may be…well…rather disturbing.
Because, as I was in need of comfort in the forms of starch and – yes – fat – I opted for not one, but two types of cheese.
Parmesan and Gorgonzola.
And my kids thought so, too. Julia didn't have blue cheese on hers, though. She's not a fan. Bill isn't either – the blue cheese part. But he liked the spaghetti and clam sauce part, and that's the important part.
Well, no. Actually, the most important part was that I like it. Comfort food, you know.
And as comfort foods go, this one's pretty healthy as well. I used a multigrain pasta, the clams are good for you, I only used about 2 tablespoons of fat in the sauce, and even the amount of cheese I put on at the end was within healthy limits. I think. So isn't that nice? Comforting AND good for you!
So if you happen to have a bag of quahogs and broth in your freezer, go ahead and thaw them today and make yourself a lovely bowl of pasta with clam sauce tonight. For an extra boost of nutrition and a shift in flavor, you could also add some diced tomatoes to the sauce. Maybe a few basil leaves, too. And a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. So many variations! Try one yourself and let me know how it tastes!
Oh, and if you don't have a bag of quahogs in your freezer…well…then you have my deepest sympathy.