16 July 2011

Marcella Hazan's Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce

To look at her, she seems the quintessential Italian Nonna ... round, distinguished, and somewhat formidable, yet with a sparkle in the eye and a strong capable presence. She has distinguished herself as one of the most knowledgable resources for classic Italian cuisine, has published top-notch cookbooks on Italian food, contributed commentary and recipes to The New York Times over the years, taught cooking classes, and has been credited with being one of the driving forces behind introducing balsamic vinegar and all its possibilities to the foodie world - all this a 'happy accident', a result of her need to feed her husband, her wonder of and frustration with 'the American supermarket experience', and a cooking class on Chinese food.
You can hear/read her own words here at NPR. What I find so powerful is the fact that her knowledge is so based in the bedrock of food memories of how her mother and grandmother cooked. Her destiny has been to bring those simple and basic 'food memories' to the public, convincing many foodies that Italian food is not fussy and convoluted. It is basic fare that uses the simplest of ingredients to create soul-satisfying meals.

This evening, I have simple needs - a summertime pasta plate.  Hazan's clam sauce with spaghetti is high on my list of perfect pasta dishes. So ... to honor Marcella Hazan, I am making her version for our dinner. We will have it with little baby zucchini squashes that have just started coming in from the backyard garden. I will do a fast sauté with green onions and oregano, butter and a bit of olive oil. A semi-crunchy bite to go with a plate of pasta and clams. Yum! I think I'll decant the Pinot Grigio while I cook!

Spaghettini with White Clam Sauce
courtesy of Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Ingredients for 2 servings :

2 dozen littleneck clams
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced paper thin
1 ½ tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tsp. chopped fresh hot chili pepper, veins and seeds left in, or to taste
1 fresh, ripe, firm plum tomato, cut into ½ -inch dice with its skin on, but seeded
½ c. dry white wine
½ pound dry pasta
6 fresh basil leaves, rolled and sliced into ribbons
Recommended pasta: Spaghettini, as thin spaghetti takes to clam sauces more successfully than other shapes. Alternate pastas might be linguini fini or spaghetti rigati.

Making the Dish:

1. Soak the clams for 5 minutes in a basin or sink filled with cold water. Drain and refill the basin with fresh cold water, leaving in the clams. Vigorously scrub the clams one by one with a very stiff brush. Drain, refill the basin, and repeat the whole scrubbing operation. Do this 2 or 3 more times, always in fresh changes of water, until you see no more sand settling to the bottom of the basin. Discard any clams that, when handled, don’t clamp shut.

2. Put them in a pan broad enough so that the clams don’t need to be piled up more than 3 deep. Add about ¼ c. water. Cover the pan, and turn on the heat to high. Check the clams frequently, turning them over, and remove them from the pan as they open their shells.

3. When all the clams have opened up, turn off the heat and let the juices in the bottom of the pan cool. Try not to stir up the juices in the pan any more than you must. Detach the clam meats from their shells, and gently swish each clam in the pan juices to rinse off any sand. Unless they are exceptionally small, cut them up in 2 or even 3 pieces. Put them in a small bowl, pour 2 tablespoons olive oil over them, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and set it aside for later. Do not refrigerate.

4. Line a strainer with paper towels, and filter the clam juices in the pan through the paper and into another bowl. Set aside for later.

5. Choose a skillet or sauté pan broad enough to contain the pasta and clam sauce. Put in 3 tablespoons olive oil and the sliced garlic. Turn on the heat to medium high. Cook the garlic, stirring it, for just a few seconds, without letting it become colored, then add the parsley and the chili pepper. Stir once or twice, and add the diced tomato. Cook the tomato for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring it from time to time, then add the wine. Simmer the wine for about 20 to 30 seconds, letting it reduce, then turn off the heat.

6. Cook the pasta in abundant boiling salted water until it is very firm to the bite, barely short of being fully cooked. When you bite a piece off, it should feel a bit brittle in the center and have a small white dot on its center. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan of garlic, tomato and spices. Pour in the clam broth and turn the heat up to medium high. Toss the pasta every minute or so until the juices have been absorbed and the pasta is perfectly done - al dente. In the unlikely event it needs more cooking after the clam juices have been absorbed, add a small amount of water.

7. As soon as the pasta is done, turn the heat off and add the clams with all the oil in the bowl and the basil ribbons. Toss in the pan 2 or 3 times, then transfer to a warm platter and serve at once.

Zucchini and Green Onion Sauté

Ingredients for 2 servings:

2 - 3 small zucchini squash, halved length-wise and sliced
4 green onions, washed and sliced on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
3 generous pinches dried oregano
6 big basil leaves, rolled and sliced into ribbons
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Making the Dish:

1. Heat a non-stick pan and toss in the olive oil and butter.

2. When the butter and oil bubble, toss in the onions and zucchini and sauté until the vegetables are tender-crisp.

3. Add the basil ribbons, salt and pepper to taste. Turn into a bowl and sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese. Serve while piping hot.

I hope you make this meal. It's simple flavours are perfect for a warm summer night. Also, please check out all the other bloggers who are participating in this week's tribute to Marcella Hazan, #6 on the list of 50 Women Game-Changers ... see Mary's post at One Perfect Bite to click the links! Have a great week and consider joining us next week when we pay tribute to Madhur Jaffrey.


  1. What a lovely post; I have always wanted to make White Clam Sauce but never felt secure enough with the recipe; you have just given me the one I needed; thank you and thank s to Marcella Hazan. Trying that zucchini tonight.

  2. This recipe proves that sometimes simple ingredients can combine to make an amazing meal. I just learned to love clams recently, and this looks wonderful!

  3. Marcella is a genius in the kitchen and has put together excellent guides for us all to live a bit of Italy in our every day lives. Your chosen dish exemplifies all that is Italian..simple and yet outstanding flavour combinations.

  4. What a glorious summer meal! I love clams and this is such a perfect, simple dish. Lovely choice :D

  5. "Marcella Cucina" published in 1997 is one of the few cookbooks I own that I actually read cover to cover. Every recipe comes with a story! If you don't have a copy you can pick one up used on Amazon for next to nothing. If they are like mine they might have a few olive oil stains, but if someone sold their copy, I'm guessing that person wasn't a cook. Marcella Hazan is a treasure!

  6. The dinner served in your kitchen last night was far better than the one that came from mine. You've picked a wonderful recipe to demonstrate Marcella's skills in the kitchen. I loved your post and I am so glad you joined us in this culinary adventure. It wouldn't be the same without you. Have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

  7. I love white clam sauce but haven't made it in years. You have inspired me! Your pasta looks wonderful! I so admire Marcella…such wonderful real food! Nice post!

  8. What a delightful looking meal! I love the use of those little clams in the pasta! And the zucchini dish looks delicious!

  9. What a great cook, and what a lovely post! Thanks for sharing.

  10. What a great tribute! Using fresh clams make such a difference. Your plan to break in the pinot grigio is a good one ;-) BTW, in response to your question of char siu, there are recipes online. I used the one provided in Asian Dumplings and really thought it turned out well (although I cut my pork into smaller pieces before roasting than she did), and I froze a bunch of it that I didn't use right away so it will save time in the future.

  11. i have always been put off by the soggy pasta with tasteless clam sauce served in most restaurants but your version looks absolutely delicious - thanks!

  12. Ah I love white clam sauce and pasta!! I can't really make it at home though because my boyfriend is grossed out by clams. Sigh.

  13. We love clam sauce at my house. It always turns out delicious. After seeing Marcella's name I went to my bookshelf to see which one of her books I have. Well I have the Essentials of Italian Cooking and there is a bookmark in a page for chicken liver sauce.I must have wanted to make it and never got around to it. Oh well, another recipe for the list.

  14. you stunned bunt. If you're going to reproduce the recipe, get it right. You've left out the onions (or shallots), and, most importantly for a recipe from a native of Emilia-Romagna, the butter!!!

  15. @ Anonymous - While I appreciate comments, when an anonymous someone begins a comment by calling me a less than complimentary name and then proceeds to bash a recipe that I checked on and reproduced as it was written, I tend to take some offense. In the future, please do comment, but be up front enough to identify yourself and please be courteous. Thanks!


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