sobota 25. července 2009

Spaghetti a vongole

Pasta vongole is a classic Italian dish and is always prepared with long thin pasta like spaghetti, spaghettini or linguini. It's amazingly simple to make and tastes heavenly but only under the condition of having fresh vongole, good pasta and ripe cherry tomatoes, which often poses as a problem in Prague (mostly the vongole). I bought beautiful vongole in the new seafood shop I wrote about in the previous post and some nice cherry tomatoes from a Vietnamese vegetable vendor and now I am ready to cook my favourite pasta.

All clams must be carefully washed and cleaned! You don't want sand between your teeth. BTW these clams were very clean, I only rinsed them under flowing water in a sieve. All clams that are already open before cooking and do not close if you tap them on the table (i.e. don't show any sign of activity) are dead, throw them away without remorse. Those mussels that don't open when cooked are also unedible and might cause severe food poisoning, throw them away too. If you buy clams and plan to cook them later or the next day, refregirate them but do not cover! Remember, the poor things are still alive and need air to breathe. Arrange them in one layer on a plate and put them into the fridge. When you take them out of the fridge many will be open, don't panic, leave them to stand for 2-3 hours and you will see, and most importantly hear, them ressurect. Those that don't close or move are dead so get rid of them. For me, the safest way to determine whether the clams are alive is to put them under flowing water, the alive ones will close immediately. Never freeze mussels or clams!

Ingredients for 2 people:
1 kg vongole clams
10 ripe and tasty cherry tomatoes
pasta, about 200gr in dry state - please use good pasta (I use DeCecco)
1 medium sized clove of garlic - cut into 4-5 pieces (NOT finely chopped)
2 tablespoons of parsley - chopped finely
1/6 red chilli - cut into rings (about 6-8 thin rings)
olive oil

1. Several hours or one day prior to cooking wash the tomatoes and make two cuts on them to form a cross. Pour some boiling water over them and remove skin. Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Put the tomato halves in a bowl and pour olive oil over them (sounds complicated but takes 5 minutes). Leave. See comments below
2. Boil your pasta in salted water until al dente, strain and set aside.
3. Heat up some oil in a big pan and add the chopped garlic and chilli. Fry until fragrant and add the cleaned vongole. Pour in about 1/2 cup of boiling water and let evaporate for about 2 minutes until all clams open up. Add the tomatoes and the parsley let cook for another minute, add some more boiling water if needed. The smaller the clams the less time they need.
4. Add pasta and carefully stir. Stirring mussels may cause them to break and you will end up with hard pieces of shell in you pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5.Serve and enjoy

This tomatoe/oil mixture is often used when the cook does not want the sauce to taste overly of tomatoe. In restaurants these tomatoes are made in bulks of several kilograms and used for several days. Marinating the tomatoe halves in oil makes them keep together and as the result the sauce contains pieces of tomatoe instead of mushy tomatoe puree. And please, don't throw away the leftover oil! It's been infused by the tomatoes and is a great salad dressing!
I bought the cherry tomatoes that are sold on the stem, they were round and all the same size. The price was ridiculous - 150kc/kg. I don't know why they're so expensive and who actually buys them for that price, but they are very good, ripe and sweet. You only need 10 of them so it won't ruin your budget, but you do need these very ripe tomatoes.
Sometimes white wine is added to pasta vongole, but IMHO the cooking time is too short for adding wine as it leaves the sauce too sour for my liking and overpowers the delicate vongole flavour. Also butter is often used instead of olive oil, it's tasty too, but more French style.
Cooking clams is not everyone's thing because they are...uhm, alive. Yes, they do move and they do make squeeky and cracking noises. Black mussels are a bit quieter but vongole clams really do show that they want to live. If you think you will not be able to cook something that's moving, don't waste your money and don't buy them. Sorry for the morbid details but that's just how it is...
What a loooong post! :)

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