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Linguine and Clams for Christmas Eve

UPDATE: Tonight’s book signing event at Bibi Ji has been canceled due to weather (stay home and stay safe Santa Barbara)! If you would like to purchase personalized copies of the book and/or Champagne !

Back in the day, my parents did all their shopping on Christmas Eve. Can you even imagine? It sounds lovely to knock it all out in one day, saving the rest of the season for time with your family and friends. The tradition always culminated with my Grandmother (we called her Nanny) whipping up a batch of linguine and clams at 10:00 pm. It’s a great dish that’s fast to make, deliciously satisfying, and one that has become our Christmas Eve tradition. Even in the years where it feels like the holidays sneak up on us, linguine and clams is one thing that truly marks the arrival of Christmas. This meal, for me, marks the end of the busyness of a month full of shopping, parties, and planning to truly settle in and enjoy time with family and a thread of tradition that runs through the generations and years.

In our home, this dish means family, comfort, and well, Christmas.  It’s an utter and complete faux pas in Italy to put Parmesan on this pasta dish, but I won’t tell anyone if you do!

There are a few kitchen tools that make this easier to prepare and serve:

The largest skillet you can find that has a lid (or a Le Creuset Dutch oven works, too).

Tongs, if you don’t already have a pair, go ahead and make sure you get them stuffed in your stocking.  I always find wonderful ones at Sur la Table.

Shallow pasta bowls really make this meal; they hold the pasta and juices well.

Linguine and Clams

Serves 4 entrées or 6 small primi portions


For the clams, you will need a large skillet with a lid and the following ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 chili de Arbol or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

4 garlic cloves smashed

3 tablespoon parsley stems chopped

2 pound small clams like Manila or Little Neck

1 cup white wine, and a little more for the chef

1 cup of water

 

For the pasta:

1 pound linguine

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for finishing

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp red pepper flakes

¼ cup chopped parsley leaves

 

Soak the clams for up to an hour in a large bowl of cool water, with a sprinkle of cornmeal. The cornmeal makes the clams open just enough to make the dirt trapped inside the clam fall out. You can also use kosher salt if you don’t have any cornmeal on hand.

If you want to do this step in advance, just drain the dirty water and store the clean clams in the fridge until you are ready to use them. When ready to cook, first strip them of any beards and discard any cracked or smelly ones. As always, if the clams don’t open up after you cook them, don’t serve them.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water, adding a good handful of salt to the water.

While your pasta cooks, start the clams. On medium-high heat: Add olive oil, red pepper, smashed garlic, and parsley stems to a large skillet. Sautee until fragrant. Then add the clams, the water, and wine. Cover, and cook for approximately 5 minutes, shaking the pan every now and then. Once the clams have cooked. Strain the juices–reserve the juice and set it aside (I’ll tell you what to do with it at the end). Place the cooked clams in a bowl.

Check to see if your pasta is done cooking. If done, reserve a cup of the pasta water and strain the spaghetti. Wipe out the skillet from the clams and add olive oil, minced garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. When the garlic smells delicious, add ½ cup of the pasta water and stir with a wooden spoon. Then add the pasta to the skillet, along with the clams and the parsley. If the pasta seems a bit dry then add the rest of the pasta water. Incorporate all of the ingredients using tongs and gently toss. Serve in individual shallow bowls or on one large platter. Drizzle with the best quality olive oil and garnish with more parsley.

The clam juice: My mom always gives everyone their own bowls of clam juice, for dipping your clams into as you eat. I highly recommend this,  just be sure to strain the juices prior to serving in order to make sure all the sand and such is gone.