The arrival of spring brings longer, sunnier days, but there’s still time to make the most of the cold season’s shellfish. Whether you collect them yourself or buy fresh from the local fish market, this recipe for clam pasta is a winner from MarkMaker and chef Chris Fischer’s The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook.
“Night or day, it’s tempting to stay by the fire through early spring, but the season’s crisp light is what I need to get through this time of year,” says Fischer. ”On the water raking for clams, I enjoy the weather rather than resisting it.”
Start your spring the right way with this moreish clam rigatoni.
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced
3 cloves garlic, 2 unpeeled and 1 peeled
About 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus a high-quality olive oil to finish
4 oz. pancetta (or unsmoked bacon), cut into thin lengths
2 medium shallots, sliced
Generous pinch crushed red pepper
12 oz. rigatoni
1.5 tbsp butter
5 large quahogs, shucked and chopped; or 4 dozen littleneck clams, steamed open, shucked and chopped
2 tsp minced lemon zest
About 3/4 cup homemade breadcrumbs, toasted
Freshly ground pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, adding the fennel, 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, and salt. Blanch until the fennel is tender, then remove it with the garlic using a slotted spoon.
Peel the garlic and puree it in a food processor with fennel, adding a little water to smooth the puree. Set it aside, reserving the boiling water for the pasta.
Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil, then the pancetta, shallots, and crushed pepper. Give the pan a swirl, then turn the heat to medium. Brown the pancetta, then add half the remaining garlic. Turn down the heat and stir frequently until toasted.
Add the pasta to the boiling water, stirring occasionally to keep the rigatoni from clumping. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until al dente.
When the pasta is three-fourths done, finish the sauce. Add the fennel puree, butter, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet with pancetta. If you’re using raw clams, add them now (or with steamed littlenecks, add once the pasta is done). Season the sauce lightly with salt, then raise the heat and cook until the sauce is bubbling and reduces slightly. Add pasta water as necessary to keep the sauce loose; you want it moist enough to coat the pasta.
Throw in the parsley leaves and toss again. Chop the remaining garlic and add to the sauce with lemon zest. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt.
Spoon the rigatoni onto warm plates. Top each portion with bread crumbs, season with pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.
Bon appetit. Enjoy these clams in a comfortable seat next to the fire, wrapped up warm in a cozy crewneck or cardigan. Spring salads and summer barbecues are just around the corner.