I do not believe in following recipes. Part of this stems from the fact that I do not really know the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon nor do I actually own any measuring devices. The primary reason is I have approached cooking from an eater’s perspective – I focus on flavors – the more distinctive and bold the better. I try to find flavor combinations that just mix so well with each other that I can focus on boldness without worrying about balance.
One of my favorite dishes to prepare that fits this criteria is spaghetti alle vongole. Clam juices, garlic, white wine, heat – those are the primary flavors and they blend with each other magically. Best of all, it is so simple to prepare.
My non-recipe, recipe for spaghetti alle vongole
The first step is to slice up cloves of garlic and heat it in olive oil. How much garlic? Well if you ask me, the more the better…this is really one of those areas that there is no substitute for trial and error as each person’s tastes are different. The same approach can be used for the other ingredients…more/less does not really matter as the flavors are perfect compliments. If you ask me, bold flavors rock so always err on the side of more.
The next step is to add some form of heat to the oil and garlic. I like to use fresh jalapeno peppers. The spiciness you can attain with fresh peppers is very different from dried peppers or the classic red pepper flakes. I find it to be cleaner in a fresh vegetal sense in that the spiciness is almost sweet in flavor. The heat attained is also more muted and more evenly spread out versus the clumpy concentrated bitterness one experiences with dried peppers.
Once the mixture of garlic, oil and jalapenos is nicely browned and aromatic, add white wine. Wine is a great short cut to get complexity of flavor and body to the sauce. You can use any kind of white wine, but my tastes tend toward something dry and nuttier as I am not a big fan of syrupy sweetness when mixed with seafood.
Finally add the clams. Clams you buy from the store are usually dirty so a 10-minute soak and scrub is essential before adding them to the fragrant mixture of garlic, peppers, oil and wine. Once the clams are added, raise the heat and cover the pot so the clams can steam in the fragrant broth. After a few minutes, most of the clams should have opened and added their succulent juices to the broth / sauce. Those clams that have not opened just need to be discarded.
So there you have it: an amazing vongole sauce of clam juices, garlic, white wine, fresh jalapeno peppers. Boil some pasta, to mix with this sauce and you have a wonderful tasty dish with that is also healthy to boot!