Last year, I wrote of discovering and enjoying clams from Cedar Key on Florida’s west coast. As Thanksgiving approached, I had in mind to make a simple preparation of Linguini alla Vongole using the littleneck variety of Cedar Key clams.
Stopping by Lombardi’s Seafood to pick up a couple of dozen, I noticed a clam I had never seen before. It was explained to me that this was a Sunray Venus clam. This clam, while native to Florida, has never been commercially viable. In recent years research sponsored by the State of Florida has mentored and encouraged the establishment of this clam as a new aquaculture species. The Sunray is just coming to retail markets.
Sunrays are a bit more elongated than the Cedar Key littlenecks. The meat is bright white, larger in size with a sweet, briny taste. The clams are attention getting when displayed in the refrigerated case next to their Cedar Key cousins displaying radial striations against a cool grey background. I took home a generous bag for my planned alla vongole.
There are many approaches to preparing a bowl of pasta with clams. Previously, I documented a version based on Judy Rodgers dish at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. For this version though, I wanted to go as traditional as possible meaning the ingredients would consist simply of clams, pasta, good olive oil, garlic, chili, white wine and parsley. With ingredients this basic, quality matters. Use the best you can obtain and afford.
Even though farmed clams are purged before being brought to market, I like to repeat this step at home by soaking the clams in cold water with a tablespoon of corn meal for about an hour in the refrigerator. Before preparing the clams, the pasta can be cooked until nearly done according to the package directions, drained and set aside.
The dish starts with a good quality extra virgin olive oil. I use olive oil from California, as I no longer trust that most Italian oils are genuine. When the oil shimmers a generous amount of finely minced garlic is added to the pan. Control the heat carefully so the garlic doesn’t brown or burn.
Dried red pepper flakes are commonly used for heat in this dish, but I prefer fresh chilies. A finely minced red habanero is used here. Let the chili simmer in the oil with the garlic before adding a generous splash of white wine. In this case a nice Sauterne that will be served alongside the dish.
When the wine has cooked down a bit, add the clams. About 12 to 15 clams per serving are about right. Or more, if like me you are so inclined.
The clams are done as soon as they open which doesn’t take very long so stand over the clams as these cook. Interesting thing about Sunray Venus clams is they turn from grey to pink just before opening. Since I was cooking more clams than needed for a single serving I removed the clams as each opened holding them in a covered bowl until assembling the dish.
Add the partially cooked pasta to the same sauté pan used to cook the clams so it heats and finishes in the mixture of olive oil, wine and juice from the clams. Place a single serving of clams in the pan with the pasta and toss to reheat before arranging in a shallow serving bowl. I like to garnish with chopped parsley and black pepper.
The recipe serves two. Buon appetito!
- 1 pound dried linguine pasta
- 24 to 30 small, Sunray Venus clams purged and rinsed. Use more or less according to your preference.
- 4 to 5 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 4 to 6 cloves minced garlic to your taste
- 1 habanero chili finely minced or to taste
- About 1/2 cup dry, white wine
- 1 handful chopped Italian flat leaf parsley for garnish
- Fresh ground black pepper (optional)
- Cook pasta in boiling salted water until nearly done according to package directions – about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside
- Add olive oil to a large skillet or sauté pan and bring to medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add a generous amount of minced garlic to your taste. Cook until the garlic begins to soften but avoid burning or browning. Add minced chili and cook for about 1 minute more.
- Add white wine to the pan and let it the alcohol cook away then add clams to the pan and stir often until the clams turn pink and pop open. Remove the clams to a bowl covered with a clean dishcloth as each opens.
- For each serving, add between 1/4 and 1/3 of the cooked pasta to the same pan used to cook the clams. Stir to warm the pasta and coat with the mixture of oil, wine and the juice of the cooked clams. Add 15 to 18 clams per serving cover and let warm for about 1 minute. This step may be done in single serving batches.
- Serve in shallow bowls spooning pan sauce over. Garnish with chopped parsley and black pepper if desired.