Food has the power to transport us -- to take us back to our childhoods, or to a past summer vacation. This menu is taking us to Italy, and we couldn't be happier. Both the Linguine con Vongole and the Tuscan Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash are deep and flavorful, but neither are heavy -- plus they bring a lot of colors to the table. Looks and substance: a winning combo.
1 dozen fresh clams (I used Littleneck)
1 handful of pasta noodles, enough for 1 serving (linguine or spaghetti noodles works well here)
1/3 of a large sausage link that has fennel and garlic in it (each sausage link is around 1/3 pound at Whole Foods)
5 large garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper (optional)
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon seasoned pepper, divided
1/16 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/16-1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, leaves only, coarsely chopped
1. Clean the clams of all grit and heat 2"of water to salted boiling in a wide pan. Put the clams in the hot water and cover. It should take about 5 minutes for them all to open. Immediately remove the clams from the pan, remove the clams from the shells, coarsely chop and set aside. Reserve shells for dish decoration. Reserve the clam broth in the pan.
2. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling. Cook the pasta according to the directions on its box.
3. Cook the sausage over medium - high heat and crumble. Set aside. If you plan to add the jalapeno pepper, place the whole jalapeno in a dry pan and roast over medium-high heat. Once the skin is mostly blackened, remove, pop into a small bag for 5 minutes. Peel, seed and dice. I tend to add various roasted peppers to a lot of things to bring a little heat to a dish and some smoky earthiness. But this dish works well without the jalapeno too.
4. Lightly salt the garlic and saute it in the rendered fat from the sausage. Add a little olive oil if needed. Once the garlic is just turning golden, add the diced roasted jalapeno pepper (if you're using it), diced tomatoes and a ladle-full of clam broth from the pot you cooked the clams in. I put in enough clam broth to create a very soupy sauce. Add the salt, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano and half of the seasoned pepper, and cook until the clam broth has reduced by one third. Add the cooked sausage and clams. Toss around to rewarm, but not long enough to start cooking the clams again. Nothing is worse in this dish than rubbery overcooked clams. At the end I do a couple squeezes of lemon slices to balance the acid.
5. When the pasta is cooked, I toss it lightly in olive oil, sprinkle some parmasan cheese and a little seasoned pepper on top of it and toss it again, but this step is optional. Then I pour the clams / sausage / tomato sauce over it. You can arrange the reserved shells on the dish for presentation. As a last touch, I sprinkle the chopped flat-leaf parsley on top before sitting down to eat.
6. Serve with some crusty bread and a salad. You know, I might need to make this again tonight. I'm getting hungry for it again!
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The Grocery List
Serves 1, with lots of leftover vegetables to throw in a salad the next day
1 dozen fresh clams
1 handful of pasta noodles, enough for 1 serving
1 sausage link
1 jalapeno pepper
3 summer squash
10 garlic cloves
4 sprigs rosemary, chopped
1 sprig oregano
2 red onions
Sturdy skewers, soaked in hot water for an hour if wooden
1. To make the marinade, combine garlic, herbs, chile flakes, lemon juce and zest, and vinegar in a mixing bowl. Whisk in oil. Place zucchini and squash into a lage resealable plastic bag, pour the marinade over, and seal. Allow to marinate 30 minutes, though longer is great if you have time.
2. While the vegetables are marinating, clean your clams and cook them in 2 inches of salted, boiling water. Once they're opened, take the clams out of their shells, coarsely chop them and set them aside. Reserve the clam broth in the pan.
3. Cook the sausage, and crumble it. Set aside.
4. Saute your garlic in the rendered fat from the sausage. Once it's golden, add the rest of the ingredients for the sauce. Put on a pot of water to boil.
5. . Remove the zucchini and squash from marinade, and grill 'em up.
6. Put your pasta in your now-boiling water and cook according to directions on the box. While it's cooking, finish up your sauce.
7. Once the pasta's out, toss it with the sauce and serve with your grilled vegetables. Buon appetito!
Photos by Karen Mordechai and Sarah Shatz