Sunday 15 March 2009

La Dolce Vita

Is any dish more evocative of La Dolce Vita than clam linguine? Clams fresh from the sea, parsley picked in the garden, olive oil from the grove down the road and all washed down with local wine. Over the years, tallied up, I've spent one of those years watching food programmes, sad I know, but I've seen countless TV chefs eulogize this dish. 

At some point, in most series, chefs will rail against the fancy elaborate cooking responsible for their success in the first place. The most perfect realisation of this conceit sees a TV chef placed among "real people". Ideally old fisherfolk with weather beaten faces and an even more weather beaten hut. A simple meal is prepared using 'just caught' fish and 'wife grown' vegetables. Then chef, humbled by the thrilling honesty of it all, tells viewers that these people, this food, what it represents, this is what impassioned him to cook in the first place. An artificial epiphany, and chef, seeing his soul lost somewhere in the firey hell of the kitchens, the endless appearances, the affairs, the book signings, stares out to sea. Then it's on with the show!

I've never eaten this dish overlooking the sea in Italy, or overlooking the sea anywhere else. But it's good. So good, most had been eaten before I remembered to take a photo. It was my best rendition so far, an extraordinary rendition! 
Is it authentic?  Well, it has evolved over time from snippets taken out of programmes, blogs, books and restaurants that are Italian but not in Italy. A modern condensed version of a dish's evolution.

Here's my recipe for 2 people:

0.5 kg of live clams
glass white wine
olive oil
2 cloves garlic- chopped
2 shallots or a small onion finely chopped
a massive bunch of flat leaf parsley- about 4 tablespoons finely chopped
pinch of chilli flakes
1/4 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1/2 pack of linguine
(A very good tip I picked up somewhere was to rinse the clams then put them in a bowl of cold water in the fridge for a couple of hours before using. I don't know why, but it works, getting rid of any sand that may be in them. Surf clams especially can be gritty).

Have everything ready to go.
Start cooking the linguine according to pack instructions.
Meanwhile in a large pan with a tight fitting lid saute the shallot in a decent amount of olive oil with the chile flakes and fennel seeds. After 2 minutes put in the garlic. Let that start frying then throw in half of the parsley. Continue frying until the parsley noticeably darkens.  Pour in the wine and let it bubble. Drain the clams and throw them into the pan. Put on the lid and turn the heat up full. Give the pan an occasional shake. Once the clams open they're ready. They take about 5 minutes tops. Drain the linguine and put it in the pan with the clams, or put everything into the drained pasta pan, and mix. Throw in the rest of the parsley and some black pepper. Taste, it'll need a little salt. And serve. It's dead easy and delicious. Some people suggest removing most of the clams from their shells before serving, but I think that's a faff.

Drinking suggestions? We drank this:

Part two of our present for looking after Seamus. I'd been planning to try it with a cheese fondue. But needs must. And the Savoie region was once part of the Duchy of Savoy, which makes it almost Italian. 
It worked well, nice clean apple flavour and surprisingly rich. Think this is the first Roussette I've tried, not really seen it about much. As they say in Manchester, sweet.

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