Spinach linguine with clams, corn and pancetta
This dish has got to be my favorite thing that I made all summer. I know it’s a long blog post, and it involves making your own pasta, but the end result is worth it. If you want to eat something divine and be crowned with a halo from your family and friends, you have to make it. But — and this is a big but — only if you live in a place where corn and clams are in season right now. Don’t try this with canned corn or canned clams or I will get the “freshness police” after you. The pancetta is crucial too, but I know some of you may not have access to it. A decent substitute is slab bacon, but it will have a smoky taste, whereas pancetta does not. I’ll give you a pass and say you can use boxed pasta but ONLY if you don’t have a pasta machine. Otherwise, you must, must, must make your own pasta. I’ve made it different ways, from rolling it out by hand, to using the automated KitchenAid attachment, to using my nearly 50 years-old crank machine that you’ll see in the photos below. I’ve made plain pasta many times (tutorial here) and beet-flavored pasta too, but this was my first time making homemade spinach pasta and it was a game changer. What a toothy and delicious texture and flavor, not to mention the vibrant color. I made this dish earlier in the month with store bought pappardelle and everyone loved it, but that’s because they hadn’t yet eaten it with the homemade spinach pasta. Excuse me for tooting my own horn, but it’s no exaggeration to say the homemade pasta version was sublime, compared to just delicious with the store bought pasta. So I may be making spinach pasta on a regular basis. Or at least until my pants zipper gets harder to close. I know my husband won’t complain.
I used a 10-ounce box of frozen spinach. Don’t cook it. Just let it thaw on the counter, and squeeze the bejesus out of it. Using your hands, make sure you squeeze every bit of water from the spinach you can. Then press it between paper towels to get any other moisture out. Place the spinach in the food processor with the eggs and give it a whir. Look at that pretty green color.
Then add the flour and a pinch of salt until it forms a ball. (Your food processor is not going to be happy and will probably start “dancing” on the counter.) Stop it at this point and put it on the counter.
It will still be a bit sticky, so knead in more flour. Use 00 flour from Italy if you can find it (it’s easily available online.)
After a few minutes, it will develop a smoother texture. Cover it with a bowl, or in plastic wrap and let it sit for about a half hour, to let the glutens rest.
Then cut off a piece, squish it with the palm of your hands, flour both sides a little, and pass it through the pasta machine, starting with the largest opening and going down a few notches (but not to the thinnest. I stopped at two numbers before the last on the dial).
Then take the long piece of pasta, flour it a bit on both sides again, and pass it through the linguine cutter (or the smaller spaghetti size if you prefer.)
You could make “nests” with pasta and place them flat on linen or paper towels, or hang the pasta from clothes hangers, as my kitchen helper did for me. (Smile, you’re on Ciao Chow Linda!)
OK, now that the pasta making is out of the way, start on the sauce. Scrape the corn from the cobs, mince the garlic, pancetta and herbs and set aside while you prepare the clams. I used littleneck clams, the smallest available where I live. If this were Italy, I’d be using the even smaller vongole. If only!
After rinsing and scrubbing the clams, place them in a pan, turn the heat to high and cover.
If you don’t have a cover large enough, use another pan that’s the same size to cover the bottom pan.
Steam the clams in their own juices and remove immediately when they start to open. It will take only a minute or two once the pan is hot. The clams won’t be fully cooked and that’s fine. You’ll finish cooking them later. The reason to cook them partially is to open them up and pluck some of the clams out of the shell to mix with the pasta, and you also want to strain the liquid from the clams to use in the sauce. There was still a lot of sandy sediment, even after scrubbing the clams before cooking. Use a coffee filter, or a paper napkin on top of a sieve to strain out the sediment. I cooked the clams in two batches to give them enough room to open. Don’t worry that they’ll get cold. You’re going to heat them and cook them further with the pasta later.
After removing the clams, and straining the liquid, I used the same saucepan to cook the pancetta (you can see the splatter from the clams on the sides).
When the pancetta is nearly crispy, add the garlic and the clams (both the ones you plucked out of the shell and the ones in the shell.) Cook for a minute or two to soften the garlic. Add the olive oil, the white wine, the reserved clam juice (it should be about 1/2 cup) and season with salt and pepper. I also added a tablespoon of butter (because butter always makes everything taste better.)
Meanwhile cook the pasta. If it’s freshly homemade, it won’t take longer than two or three minutes. Save about a cup of that pasta water before you drain the pasta.
After draining the pasta and getting rid of the water (except for that cup you saved), put the pasta back in the pot and dump all the clams, pancetta and raw corn into the pot. Mix everything really well, adding some of the pasta water, and a bit more olive oil to make sure you have a bit of “sauce.”
It shouldn’t be drowning in the sauce, but just enough to moisten the pasta and keep it from sticking to itself. Add in the minced parsley and basil just before turning into a platter or bowl.
Serve immediately and receive your kudos. This recipe makes enough for four to six people, depending on appetites. My husband and I each had two servings, and the family of three living next door to us were happy to consume the rest.
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- FOR THE PASTA:
- 1 10-ounce box frozen spinach
- 2 cups 00 flour
- 2 eggs
- pinch of salt
- FOR THE SAUCE:
- 3-4 dozen clams
- ¼ pound pancetta, cut into small bits
- 4 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup white wine
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ½ cup reserved clam juice
- 2 ears of fresh corn, stripped off the cob
- pasta water
- black pepper
- a generous handful of minced parsley
- a generous handful of minced basil
- FOR THE PASTA:
- Drain the spinach thoroughly, squeezing out all the water you can with your hands.
- Then press it with paper towels to get out any remaining water.
- Place the spinach and the two eggs into the food processor to break down the spinach.
- Start adding the flour.
- You may need as little as a cup and a quarter of flour.
- It's easy to add more flour later, but much harder to work the dough if you place too much flour into the food processor.
- Add just enough flour and process until the dough comes together into a ball.
- It will be sticky.
- Place the dough onto a wooden work surface, add more flour until the stickiness disappears and the dough seems more "homogenized" and softer.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a bowl and let it sit for at least ½ hour.
- FOR THE SAUCE:
- Place the clams in one layer a pan over high heat and cover.
- Cook for a couple of minutes or until the clams have opened.
- Once open, set aside on a plate and repeat with remaining clams, draining the liquid from the clams.
- Strain the liquid from the clams to remove any sediment.
- Remove half the clams from the shells but leave the rest in the shell.
- Set the clams aside and the liquid aside.
- In the same pan, saute the pancetta until nearly crisp.
- Add the garlic and cook until softened.
- Place the clams (the ones in the shell and the ones out of the shell) in the pan and add the white wine, butter, olive oil, clam juice and black pepper.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta and drain, but reserve about a cup of the pasta water.
- Put the pasta back into the large pot and dump the clams and pancetta over the pasta, adding the raw corn as well.
- Add the parsley and basil and mix all together.
- If it seems too dry, add some of the pasta water and swirl around a bit more.
- If the liquid seems too thin, add a bit more butter or olive oil.
- Serve immediately,.