Thursday, September 24, 2009

Quick Seafood Pasta for the Busy Cook

I prefer to make my Project Recipe assignments to a share with others, but there are times when conflicting schedules and picky eaters leave me cooking for myself. This was the case recently with grill-roasted clam linguine, which I happily turned into a solo weekday lunch.
The Recipe: Grill-Roasted Clam Linguine

My prep time: 37 minutes
My total time: 37 minutes

Grilling the clams serves two purposes--first, to concentrate the flavors with high, dry heat, and second, to accommodate cooking four dozen clams at once. Online reviewers--who universally loved this recipe--attested to the ease of the grilling technique. But since I was reducing this recipe by three-quarters, it didn't make sense to fire up the grill. Plus, I was worried about losing some of the precious "clam liquor" (Bridget, that was for you) to heat and spillage. So much like my grill-deprived colleague Bridget, I used a lidded cast iron skill and a hot oven.

First one makes the sauce, some oil, flavored with garlic, lemon zest, crushed chiles, then a little white wine. After the wine boils down, minced anchovies, lemon juice, and flat-leaf parsley (whose bright taste is perfect here) round out the flavors. I hadn't started out particularly hungry, but the fragrance of the simmering sauce sharpened my appetite considerably.

Everything you need to know about cooking with mussels and clams.

My clams were a local manila variety, mostly on the small side with a few jumbos mixed in. Roasting them was a slightly improvised experience. I heated the skillet in a 500-degree oven while I made the sauce. That was a mistake, as I realized when I later lined the hot skillet with heavy-duty tinfoil to catch clam juices--which would have been so much easier before it was 500 degrees. I dumped in the clams, clapped on the lid, and popped it in the oven.

After about four minutes I could smell the briny aroma of roasting clams; I removed the lid and let them cook a little longer in the oven's heat. Just as I had hoped, most of them had popped open, although one troublemaker had forcibly shattered, tearing the tinfoil and allowing a lot of the juice leak beneath it (making a mess of my carefully seasoned skillet), so I had to cautiously transfer it to a baking sheet to without dribbling it all onto the floor. I was able to get most of the accumulated liquor from the clams into the sauce without mishap.

Next one cooks the linguine. In another departure from the recipe instructions I lifted the al dente pasta directly from the cooking water (allowing a little to cling to it) and mixed it into the simmering sauce to enrobe it completely.

All that was left was to toss the clams on top, sprinkle on the remaining parsley and a little lemon juice, pour a glass of sauvignon blanc, and sit down to lunch. This was a sublime meal. Every time I eat shellfish I am struck by just how good they are, and how infrequently--due to family preferences and my own inertia--I eat them.

Sometimes the best meals are the ones a busy cook prepares just for himself.

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