Friday night is pasta with vongole since forever, and we have come up with lots of variations as the years have gone by. This combination, with chewy pieces of pancetta and some greens, might be the family favorite, but by no means is this canon. Throw some cherry tomatoes in with the garlic and omit the greens, or use both. Leave out the pork product if you want. You can double or triple the recipe as long as you divide the pasta between two big pots. The only real rule is to make sure the table is set and everyone is within earshot when the clams start to open; hot pasta waits for no one.
Kosher salt; freshly ground pepper
36 littleneck clams
6 garlic cloves
1 bunch Swiss chard
4 ounces pancetta (ask for it in one thick piece, not thinly sliced)
1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup white wine
1 pound spaghetti or thick spaghetti
Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to boil and season it aggressively with salt (figure ¼ cup salt per 6 quarts water). Place clams in a colander and scrub under cold running water. Be thorough. Transfer to a bowl, cover with cold water, and let soak 5 minutes, then lift the clams out of the water so that the grit stays behind, and return them to the colander.
Thinly slice the garlic; set aside. Cut the chard leaves from the stems, then tear leaves into 2-inch pieces; wash, spin dry, and set aside. Thinly slice the chard stems crosswise and set those aside, too.
Cut the pancetta into ½-inch pieces. Place a Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a lid over medium heat and pour in oil. Cook the pancetta, stirring frequently, until golden brown and starting to crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add the garlic and chard stems and cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is pale golden and stems are translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, 1 minute. Add clams to the pot and stir to coat. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the clams open, 8 to 12 minutes, checking every couple of minutes and using a slotted spoon to transfer any open clams to a large bowl. Discard any clams that refuse to open at all. Turn off the heat under the Dutch oven.
Add the spaghetti to boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, 3 minutes less than the time indicated on the package. Use a mesh spider or tongs to transfer spaghetti to the Dutch oven, then add the chard leaves and pancetta (or, reserve 2 cups pasta cooking liquid and drain pasta in a colander). Cook over medium-high heat, tossing pasta in the clam juices and adding pasta water by the ½ cupful, until a glossy sauce forms 3 to 4 minutes. Return clams to the pot, along with any accumulated liquid, and toss to combine. Season with black pepper, then taste for salt. Serve pasta and clams with red pepper flakes for sprinkling over, if desired.
Reprinted from That Sounds So Good by Carla Lalli Music.Copyright © 2021 by Carla Lalli Music.Photographs copyright © 2021 by Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random HouseLLC.
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