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8 & $20: An Elegant Clam Pasta with an Italian White

Pour a minerally Sicilian white with this rewarding, quick meal

Jennifer Fiedler
Posted: March 8, 2011

Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our new feature, "8 & $20." We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

My grandfather has been known to tell a very punny joke concerning the afterlife of shellfish that ends with the punchline “and then I left my harp in Sam Clam’s Disco.” (Hint: it helps if you’re also a Tony Bennett fan …) As a matter of conditioning then, every time I cook clams, the tale of a certain bivalve’s nightclub comes to mind. I noticed something else funny when I was noodling around with this dish the other night: I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say that you can get this meal together in the amount of time it takes to tell that joke (and listen to the groans in response)—it’s really fast and easy.

In general, Italian-inspired dishes are a good go-to if you want simplicity but a lot of flavor. This dish is a perfect example: Pasta is tossed in a quick garlic sauce made from olive oil, wine and clams. Parsley adds a dash of brightness and red pepper a touch of heat. A side of slightly charred radicchio rounds out the meal. Radicchio can be a challenge for pairings when raw, but high-heat roasting brings out a sweet smokiness that’s much more wine-friendly.

Keeping the flavors streamlined also helps with wine pairing. The briny sauce points to a white with some minerality, acidity and citrus notes. A white from Italy makes intuitive and thematic sense—we liked one we tried from Sicily. It provided a nice lift to the pasta but could also stand up to the heat. But you can look outside of Italy for options too. A citrusy Spanish white from Ribeiro worked nicely as well.

Spaghetti with Clams and a side of Roasted Radicchio

Pair with: Rapitalà Sicilia White Piano Maltese 2009 (89 points, $11)

Total time: 25 minutes

Approximate food cost: $27

  • 2 medium radicchio
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 pounds cockles (littleneck or manilla clams work too), soaked and scrubbed
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Cut each radicchio into thin orange-segment type wedges (around 16 pieces each). Lay the pieces on a baking sheet, drizzle them with cooking oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake on the lower rack of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown.

2. In a large pot, heat 1 gallon of water over high heat until it boils. Turn down the heat to a low rolling boil and add the pasta and 3 tablespoons of salt. Continue cooking until the pasta is almost al dente, around 6 to 8 minutes, then strain, reserving some of the pasta cooking water.

3. While the pasta is cooking, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until the garlic begins to get fragrant, around 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine, clams and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently until the clams have opened, around 5 to 6 minutes. Add the cooked spaghetti to the mixture and continue cooking for another 2 minutes while stirring. If the mixture gets too dry, add some of the pasta cooking water half a cup at a time. Turn off the heat, mix in the parsley, then divide between four bowls and serve with a side of roasted radicchio. Serves 4.

James Nelson
Toms River, NJ, USA —  March 17, 2011 9:11am ET
Excellent. Quick, Easy, Cheap, Tastey.
Doesn't get much better than that.
Italian food rules.

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