Wednesday, October 3, 2007

"Linguine" with White Clam Sauce

Forgive me, Thomas Keller, for I have sinned. It's been seven weeks since my last confession. What did I do this time, you ask? Did it, once again, involve oysters? No. Softshell crabs? ACK! No. It's more egregious than that: I used store-bought pasta instead of spending eleventy billion hours making my own capellini. Before you assign penance, O Wise Keller, please let me explain.

It was a hell of a week. One of the worst in the last 10-15 years. Work was beyond annoying, and the calls just wouldn't stop all week. To top it all off, not only did my dog require $900 worth of medical attention, I also found out I have skin cancer. [NOTE: I'm not turning this into a cancer blog, so if you want to learn more about malignant melanoma, you can click here. I am fine because I caught it really early and I've already had the spots removed and everything else tested normal. But I'm only going to say this once: please people, wear sunscreen, year-round, anytime you are going to be exposed to the sun -- even if only for a few minutes.]

Because it was a crap week, I tried various things to cheer myself up -- things that typically work when I'm in a funk. Taco Bell's Crunchwrap Supreme. Didn't work. Seeing someone trip and fall down on the sidewalk. Not even a chuckle. Making fun of America's Next Top Model. No go. I wanted to cook, but nothing seemed appealing or desirable in the least. I decided I wanted to make something from The French Laundry Cookbook, but I wanted relative instant gratification as a result. I wanted something cozy and warm and sort of fall-ish, but wouldn't take 27 hours to braise or reduce, nor involve three days of prep, nor placing any orders with (sorry, people, I still think that's funny).

I settled on the "Linguine" with White Clam Sauce (Keller puts linguine in quotes because he really wants you to use capellini in the dish) because I knew I could get everything at Whole Foods in one trip. I was finishing up my shopping when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the fresh pasta case. That capellini was sitting right there, calling to me. I thought about the flour, eggs and pasta roller/cutter waiting for me back home. And I said "F it" and grabbed that pasta out of the case, went through the checkout line, and drove home feeling dirty and ashamed.

So I did it. I bought already-made fresh pasta to use in a French Laundry dish. I will report that the earth did not open up and swallow me whole, and I do not believe North Korea fired any nukes in our direction, so at least things are looking up. But really, I totally feel like the Sandra Lee of the entire Internet. Please tell me I'm not. ::: crickets ::: Oh crap. First skin cancer, and now the entire Internet thinks I'm a Fandra. That's just great.

After I got home and showered off the semi-ho vibe, the first thing I did was make the garlic purée. I smashed some butter onto a double layer of aluminum foil, placed the garlic on top, then sprinkled a teaspoon of salt over them, wrapped up the foil, and put them in a 300-degree oven for a little over an hour:

When the garlic was done roasting, I squeezed the cloves out of the skin, and mashed them through a tamis, leaving this purée:

Everything else after this was easy. At the same time the garlic was roasting, I soaked the clams in a few changes of cold water, then scrubbed the shells with a brush. I put them in a small stock pot along with some garlic, shallot, thyme, bay leaves, and a little white wine:

I used a few more clams than The French Laundry Cookbook said to use, and I upped my other ingredients in the pot accordingly, because I wanted to have enough broth-then-sauce for the remaining pasta I knew I'd have. I covered the pot, turned on the heat, and after about four minutes, I started hearing the little pings and clangs of the shells opening up. I took the lid off the pot and started picking out the clams as their shells opened. I removed each clam from its shell, saved the shells, then poured what was left in the pot through a strainer, then strained it again to prep the pasta sauce:

I started some water for the pasta and made the pasta sauce by whisking some of the garlic purée into the clam broth. I let it simmer and reduce, then added a cup of butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, whisking each until it melted. I added a few drops of white wine vinegar, then strained the broth into a big bowl to await the pasta. I added a ladle of the sauce to the saucepan with the clams to gently warm them.

I also prepped the clam shells for the plating. I found the 18 biggest ones, cleaned them, and got them ready on the platter for plating:

There's a step to this dish -- creating a warm, aromatic rock salt bed upon which to serve the clams -- that I completely blew off because I was in such need of comfort food that I didn't want to take the time to do it. I will do it at some point, because I think it will be gorgeous; I just had to skip it this time to preserve my dwindling sanity.

I put the pasta in the boiling, salted water and strained it after its two minutes of cooking time. I tossed the pasta into the bowl with the sauce, added some chopped parsley and thyme leaves, and mixed everything with two chopsticks (that's the book's recommendation, and it worked like a charm).

My neighbor's son "G" came over to help twirl and set the pasta and place the clams. Wanna see the final dish? Of course you do:

Picture this: three adults, two kids, one platter of clams in the center of the dining room table. We ate them like you'd slurp an oyster out of its shell, and those clams were gone in about a minute. Then, because I knew all of the adults at the table had had a crap week, I brought the bowl of leftover capellini and clam sauce into the dining room, handed everyone a fork, and we twirled and ate the pasta out of that bowl, devouring it in about ten minutes. There wasn't much talking other than the occasional, "Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm" in between (or during) bites. There was a wee bit of wine drinking goin' on, but mostly we just polished off that pasta and then sat back contentedly staring at the empty bowl.

That, my friends, is how you get yourself out of a funk. Pasta, clams, wine and friends. Well, it's how I got myself out of this funk. What do you cook when life is kicking you in the arse?

Up Next: Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Sage Cream, Brown Butter, and Prosciutto

Clams, garlic, shallot, bay leaves, butter and parsley from Whole Foods
Thyme from my garden
Bogle Sauvignon Blanc

Music to Cook By: Sia; assorted. Because of the whole skin cancer thing this week, I had to over-dramatize it for myself and watch one of my favorite things I've saved on my TiVo box -- the final episode of Six Feet Under (I know -- drama queen much?). Remember the long, wonderful final scene in which Claire is driving out of LA enroute to her new life in New York, and we fast-forward into glimpses of everyone's future and inevitable death? One of the reasons that scene was so gut-wrenching and heart-warming when it aired the first time (a weird combination, but the only way I know how to explain it) was the music, which was "Breathe Me" by Sia. After watching that scene, I downloaded a bunch of her tunes, and really like them. It's funny -- when I listened to some of them, I know I've heard them before on television or in a movie, or that they are so reminiscent of other times in my life even though the songs themselves are new. Just like food with heart and soul (thanks, Bourdain), I like that these songs are new and familiar all at the same time. What new music have you heard that you like?


Nikki said...

Been following your blog for some time and wanted to express my appreciation for you and your efforts... as well as send some positive vibes and best wishes your way.

Now that I've gotten the flowery stuff out of the way (which I meant, every word!) - here's what I really think of you:

You are one AWESOME and hilarious gal. Rock on!

Unknown said...

Sorry to hear about your skin cancer diagnosis. My father was recently diagnosed with Liver Cancer. Thanks to modern medicine, he will be able to live out the rest of his natural life as normal. It is truly amazing what medicine can do.

I'd also just like to say that this is the only blog I can stand to read. You have a truly amazing wit.

About Sia. She has done a few tunes with Zero 7, totally worth checking out if you like her solo album.

Anyways, keep on cooking on.

Chris Furniss said...

No, seriously. Nikki is right. I cannot get over how completely interesting and funny and compelling and delicious your blog is. Every single post is worth reading, and every time I laugh and get hungry. When you finish the French Laundry Cookbook, please move on to something equally awesome. Like an old Graham Kerr or Julia Child cookbook. :)

Unknown said...

Positive vibes in your general direction!

And it's not a Fandra move to use the capellini... you didn't have sausage "acting like" the capellini or grab a random bag of noodles & sauce fromabag and use that.

And damn.... the sound of this dish makes me want a loaf of crusty french bread.

Nick said...

Love the blog.

Nick Cho
murky coffee

Anonymous said...

So funny, I just had that song in my head. Love, love SFU.

Sorry to hear about the crummy week. The clams look amazing. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

I love the photo of the empty white shells on the white plate. My son(11) loved the full shells and said "ohhhhhh, ni-hice! We're having that tomorrow, right mom"? Uhh, well I suppose we are now.

JordanBaker said...

1. You did not make the white clam sauce by adding tinned clams to a jar of Five Brothers Alfredo. Therefore, you are still safely out of SLoP territory.

2. Best wishes for the big C--growing up in AZ, I know a ton of people who've had melanomas. I'm sure that like them, you'll come through this with flying colors.

Jeanne said...

You:Sandra Lee as Fresh black & white cookie:Stale Oreo.

Pasta & wine definitely part of the comfort thing for us. Probably shrimp instead of clams, because we live in Nebraska and I don't want to be writhing on the floor feeling like death.

Love your blog - I wish I had your ambition. And patience.

Kitt said...

Comfort food indeed. I hope next week is better and the only C-word you have to worry about from now on is CRAB.

pdxblogmommy said...

Oh, hello little clams and store bought capellini with five tons of butter and glorious garlic in a little shell just for me. Come to mama...

Perhaps this would be a great New Year's Eve appetizer with some great wine before going out to some marvelous foodie destination in PDX style? Tempting I know...think on it.

You already know what I'm thinking about the skin cancer.


Anonymous said...

Anyone badass enough to take on the French Laundry, will make short work of that pesky C thing.

I'm going shopping for clams today.

Love your blog!!

Anonymous said...

I've never had clams, and I've shied away from them for fear that I'll pull an Aunt Sandy and undercook them and kill someone. This looked amazing, even without the rock salt.

My God, what are we going to do with ourselves when you're done? I won't have anything to read!!

Jaye Joseph said...

I also love that scene in SFU. Went out and bought the song immediately after it aired too.

I'm sending good vibes your way. I know first hand how scary this is. Yay for you for getting it early. Keep on getting screenings for all of it!

Rachel Luxemburg said...

My sister had a skin cancer lesion removed from her shoulder a year or so ago; she's completely fine.

Karen said...

Good on ya for keeping the SFU final episode; I sobbed and sobbed through that final scene--and you're right: the music helps make it what it is.

I can't begin to pass along enough good wishes to you for the crap week and the skin cancer scare. Truly, when bad things happen to good people...

Anonymous said...

Hi! I love this blog. Your an amazing writer. I live in New York, so I'm lucky enough to visit the Bouchon Bakery almost daily.

Wanted to wish you all the best with the skin cancer stuff. I had the same thing. It didn't take much to get rid of the bad cells. It took quite a bit longer to wrap my head around the whole situation. As bad as I wanted it to, life didn't just go back to normal....everything looked a little different. Not sure how to explain that, but I bet I don't have to. So I send you many good wishes.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carol,
If I may suggest the recently released Annie Lennox CD, “Songs of Mass Destruction” as it is hauntingly delicious, truly a feast for the soul... She has been around for such a long time and in the same way that great Bordeaux gets better with each passing year Annie does as well.

Jo said...

Oh man that looks really yummy. I have been drooling over this recipe since my husband bought me this book 4 years ago. Thank you for showing me how easy it was to make. Now I had a bad migraine yesterday. I still managed to made dinner. But I with your lousy week, I don't think store bought capellini is along thesame vein as being a Fandra. Anyways a crappy week totally pushes a person to skip the 2 hours it takes to make fresh noodles over premade fresh. You were using dried stuff.

Kevin Kossowan said...

This dish looks extremely accessible, and damn stellar. What a killer appetizer.

And I too send you good vibes if needed.

Anonymous said...

I suppose that we vegetarians could just pick up shells at the beach--and does it matter if they're scallop or clam? I didn't think so--and do something wonderful with capellini & garlic and the rest of the things we eat instead and SERVE them in the shells....just lovely.

First time visitor (came over from I love your writing and sense of humor and send clouds of healing love.

Your Sister

justina said...

Please tell me you didn't make your own orzo for the Mac and Cheese one? :)

Shannon said...

It's been a while since I've visited your blog and now I read that you have skin cancer! I'm happy to hear they caught it early.

On a brighter note, the way the pasta with clam sauce was plated looks like a fun way to get kids to eat their dinner! I might use that technique for other meals.

I hope all is well now.

Anonymous said...

wanted to add to the general comments that you are hilarious, the only blog I read religiously, etc. etc. Also inspirational, as I've just started working my way through a cookbook and writing about it (though nowhere near as complicated as kellers) --- I'll let you know when its all up and running. Thanks so much!

Catherine Nash said...

I am so sorry to hear about your medical problems, and those of your dog. Life has a way of scaring the sh*t out of us when we least expect it.

When I'm down, mostly I cook take out. Or a big plate of pasta with marinara sauce, or bacon. Lots and lots of bacon and eggs.

Christina said...

I always anticipate your posts-- they have a lot going for them. Hope everything gets better, and good luck with skin cancer. I'm glad you caught it early!

Unknown said...

You empower us all with your strength...

When I told a friend that I have cancer, he replied "I thought you were an Aries?".

Sarah said...

I am sorry to hear about your skin cancer, but am glad to hear you have caught it early and have had the spots removed.

The dish looked gorgeous and the perfect way to end a shitty week. I totally understand needing comfort food and not wanting to make the pasta, it does indeed take a while to make. I usually want any kind of mashed potatoes when feeling down.

Jim said...

Egad. Glad to hear you've gotten the skin cancer taken care of--makes me want to finally get a few worrisome moles checked out.

And there's no harm in using store-bought pasta once in a while, even if Keller wouldn't approve.

mary grimm said...

Glad you caught it early.
You might have talked me into eating clams.

Sweetie Darling said...

Oh, honey, no wonder you can't sleep. I'll be thinking about you. (And wow, did that dish look good too!)

tammy said...

If anyone can kick cancer's ass, it's you. Hi, I'm a lurker.

When you get to the agnolotti, can you please explain in excruciating detail how to shape that pasta. I don't get it. I've made that recipe once, maybe twice, and it's always delicious, but never looks like the picture. I'm not so good with the spatial relations.

Anonymous said...

we love the blog too! honestly, it's hard to bring humour to thomas keller. and we too have tried to cook from him, from the bouchon book - that damn cauliflower gratin recipe! anyway, apparently keller uses frozen sysco brand potato for the fries at bouchon so we can all rest on our supermarket pasta laurels. get well soon!xo

Rhona said...

I started reading your blog a while ago and never commented but always salivated. Keep up the excellent work and I hope you will continue onto another cook book once this one is complete.

Also, good luck with the skin cancer issue. Early detection is key and I think you have and will take all the necessary steps to lead a healthy life. Stay strong and keep on truckin'.

Carol Blymire said...

Wow. You all have overwhelmed me with your grace and good wishes. So many familiar names, and some new faces, too -- I'm glad some of you came out of lurkdom to say hello. And, what a nice surprise to get a comment from Nick Cho who happens to run what I think is the greatest coffee shop in the entire DC metro area -- Murky Coffee on Capitol Hill. Hi, Nick!

There's so much I want to say about everyone's sweet, sweet comments, and yet I think I can say it best with this: thank you. And wear sunscreen. I mean it.

Anonymous said...

hey. i just wanted to say that think you're hilarious and i LOVE reading your blog. in many ways you've helped to inspire me. thanks.