Lately, I've noticed a series of birthday celebrations on food weblogs and websites. Il Forno, Chocolate and Zucchini, The Daily Bread, and the Strong Buzz are just a few sites that have recently acknowledged their first year online.
Somehow, I overlooked the one year anniversary of The Food Section, which I launched back on July 7, 2003, with an inauspicious post about cooking spaghetti with clams. The past 17 months developing this site have been an incredible experience, not only because working on The Food Section has provided a wonderful creative outlet for my cooking and dining obsessions, but also because it has introduced me to a whole new world of culinary compatriots, online as well as offline. I want to thank all of you who read this site regularly (as well as the many who seem to end up here via Google searches for photos of Rachael Ray in skimpy outfits), and if you ever have any comments or feedback on The Food Section, please feel free to contact me.
To acknowledge this site's belated birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit that inaugural post on spaghetti and clams. The recipe I made earlier, from Mario Batali, was a study in simplicity -- pasta, clams, wine, garlic, shallots, and parsley -- but, I recently made a variation that is even more bare bones.
Suzanne Dunaway’s recipe for Spaghetti alle Vongole Veraci ("Spaghetti with Real Clams"), in her Rome at Home (Broadway Books, 2004), a great cookbook which I wrote about earlier, is just clams, spaghetti, garlic, parsley, and peperoncino. No wine or shallots needed. I had thought steaming the clams in wine was essential to helping build a sauce for the pasta, but it turns out that there is enough liquid released by the clams themselves to make a briny and flavorful sauce on their own.
A note on the clams. Ms. Dunaway writes: "The dish is a Roman favorite found everywhere, but it can be drastically wrong if the clams are not the ones with two little dark horns coming out of their bodies. They really should be no larger than a fingernail, which is why I use cockles here at home when tiny clams cannot be found." I used what I could find available, which were New Zealand baby clams.
Once all of the ingredients are prepared (the clams are rinsed, the garlic is sliced, the parsley is chopped, and the water for cooking the pasta is salted and boiling), the dish takes only as long as it does to cook the spaghetti. Just a couple of minutes after tossing the pasta in the hot water to cook, saute the garlic lightly in a large pan with extra virgin olive oil and the peperoncino. With 5 or 6 minutes remaining until the pasta is done, add the clams to the pan and cover. The clams should open by the time the pasta is al dente. I love the click-clack sound the clams make as they spring open and their shells knock into each other. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the clams, toss with parsley, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir and toss the pasta with the clams until the sauce reduces and adheres to the spaghetti. It should not be swimming in sauce. If it turns out to be too dry, you can always add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Serve immediately along with bowls for discarding the shells.