Spaghetti Alla Vongole: A Harbor in the Storm

Things have been pretty negative around here lately, huh? Between the horrors of locating duck bacon (although I am beginning to enjoy the bewildered looks I get when I ask grocers and butchers, “Do you know anywhere I can find duck bacon?”) and the sheer amount of time it takes to complete a single recipe, let alone track down the ingredients, I had all but given up on “My Father’s Daughter.” And then, Spaghetti Alla Vongole arrived. Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in.

I’ve recently adapted a new strategy when shopping for a Gwyneth recipe: Instead of writing down a shopping list for just one recipe, I write down the ingredients for several different recipes, so I can decide what to cook while at the store, based on what is available. This may not be revolutionary, but when you’re dealing with Gwyneth’s recipes, this system makes you feel like you just discovered fire.

But things never go as planned, of course. I strolled down to our local Fred Meyer, armed with shopping lists for two different pasta recipes, one as a back-up, in case there were no clams available. Much to my surprise, there were! The fish counter was stocked with bags of beautiful-looking clams, so I happily requested two pounds from the kid working behind the meat counter.

“Uh, dude, the guy who does the fish just left,” he said. “Like, I don’t even know how these things work. Am I allowed to take the clams out of the bags?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, because obviously I don’t work there. “The price is listed by the pound, so maybe each bag is a pound?”

“Dude, that would be awesome,” he said, and then proceeded to spend 15 minutes attempting to figure out how to work the scale. Unfortunately, things were not awesome, and each bag was a little over a pound. But I didn’t want to give the poor kid a headache from thinking too hard, so I just bought two bags, which came to 2.25 pounds. Close enough!

My first time cooking clams! I was VERY excited.

The other specialty ingredient I needed was a tin of anchovies, which I thought would be easily found. Of course, Fred Meyer was out. Fuck. This is where my two-recipe system fell apart, because both recipes required anchovies. I knew what I had to do, but I didn’t want to. I bought the rest of my ingredients, schlepped the bags back to my home, and then set out again – this time through the rain – to Whole Foods, which is considerably further away. Ugh.

Thankfully, Whole Foods had anchovies, but barely. With only two tins left on the shelf, I bought out the entire supply, because Gwyneth has an absolute love affair with anchovies, and I knew I would need these in the future.

And then, as I approached the cashier, I saw it:

VEGENAISE. THE HOLY GRAIL. I snatched up the biggest jar I could find, and checked out, nervously giggling in excitement. Between the giggling, and only purchasing anchovies and Vegenaise, I’m sure I looked like a complete lunatic. But I didn’t care. Vegenaise!

Back home, I got to work, and was surprised by how smoothly the rest of the recipe went. I heated some olive oil, garlic, chile flakes, and fennel seeds for a minute or so on the stove. I then dropped the anchovies in, which had me a little nervous. I’m not sure if I like anchovies or not. They’ve always seemed like something that would be gross. Also, Gwyneth assured me they would “melt into the oil,” which sounded weird. But I stirred for a minute, and, lo and behold, the anchovies melted into the oil! They just, like, dissolved, leaving behind a surprisingly pleasant smell. (Sidenote: The second I opened the tin of anchovies, Bark Antony started going insane in an attempt to get on the counter and find out what that smell was. I didn’t expect full-on howling to become a part of this cooking process, but that’s apparently the power of anchovies.)

Garlic and anchovies, pre-melt.

Next I was instructed to crush a bunch of cherry tomatoes by hand, so the skin breaks. This resulted in tomato juice and seeds flying everywhere, of course. My shirt was stained red and my tomato-splattered face looked like I had just come off the set of some weird Italian fetish porn film. It was pretty fun, actually. I added the crushed tomatoes to the pan and stirred for a few minutes, letting the heat break the tomatoes down.

This is where it really starts getting good.

Then the best part: Wine and clams! First, I poured in ¾ of a cup of dry white wine (a rather nice sauvignon blanc, per Gwyneth’s recommendation), and then poured a couple glasses to drink. I love when Gwyneth forces me to buy alcohol. I brought the sauce to a boil and dumped the scrubbed and rinsed clams into the sauce, covering the whole thing to let the clams steam. This was my favorite part (and would actually be pretty fun to do with your kids, I’d imagine), because the clear pan cover let me sit and watch the clams open in REAL-TIME. It was like a nature documentary! Plus, it all just smelled unbelievable.

Well, hello, clams!

The only real hiccup was when I was supposed to lower the heat and let it simmer for a few minutes to thicken the sauce. Gwyneth says it only takes a little while until the sauce is thick enough to “just coat a spoon,” but I let that baby simmer for over 10 minutes and it only marginally thickened. I let it sit for as long as I could stand the hunger, and then just mixed in the box of spaghetti I had cooked to al dente, figuring the pasta would soak up most of the excess liquid.

I WANT MORE OF THIS RIGHT NOW.

All in all, the entire cooking process took under half an hour, a definite record for the Danny/Gwyneth Project. And the resultant spaghetti was, truly, amazing. It was just the right amount of spicy, and tasted extremely fresh and light, while still leaving you pleasantly full. Plus, with the clams and tomatoes scattered about, it just looked pretty. As long as you can find clams and anchovies without going too out of your way, I wholeheartedly recommend this recipe. It’s easy, fun, and truly delicious. This blows everything else Gwyneth has made me cook out of the water. I’ll definitely be making this again. What a relief.

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10 Comments

Filed under Pasta

10 responses to “Spaghetti Alla Vongole: A Harbor in the Storm

  1. I don’t even like clams and that looks delicious. Awesome on getting it done in under 30 min.!

  2. Sara

    Looks delicious. I’ll be making this later this week. Happy to hear things have taken a positive turn.

  3. Ceri from Work

    working mom’s like this.

    • Ceri from Work

      Also, Her GOOP people need to come out with an app for all her complicate recipes. Something that would allow you to tap on everything you have, and spit out a list of what would would need to make (fill in the blank here) or what you could make with what you have. As a working mom (and I know you can totally relate here Danny) having to have a back up recipe in case the store does not have your ingredient is so not cool Gweneth.

  4. Carrie

    The anchovies DISSOLVED?? Weird. Looks fantastic. What will be on the menu in, say.. , August?

    • grandmom

      Now theesa looks wonderful, Danny. I can almost smell the aroma down here in San Diego. We’ll have to see if it’s a popular dish in Italy when we’re there – and make some comparisons. mmm – garlic and anchovies – melting together – HEAVEN! Sorry you had to sort of go through HELL, though, to get there.xx

  5. toastyup

    Glad you had a winner, Danny! Was starting to worry that Gwyneth and her duck bacon/vegenaise/soy milk had you beat, but this is a great comeback. As always, you made me laugh.
    P.S. Are you going to try any of the recipes GP suggests in Bon Appetit? Because the halibut and mango salsa is actually quite good and worthy of your efforts …

  6. katieb

    You? Forced to buy alcohol? You are just as out of touch with reality as Gwyneth…

  7. Laurie

    I think anchovies and vegenaise is an acceptable purchase. The other day I was buying only pantyhose and BBQ sauce and I felt pretty gross about it.

  8. Amy

    Yo, Vegenaise is sold at Fred Meyer on Hawthorne too. It’s in the healthy foods refrigerated section. It costs $6 or so though. I feel like I saw it at Trader Joe’s too. This is not mean to take away from your excitement of finding it at Whole Foods.

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