Growing up I would spend Christmas Eve with my good friend Anne-Marie and her big Italian Catholic family. It is one of my fondest childhood holiday memories. Anne-Marie’s family was big, loud, and boisterous…and they welcomed me in as if I was one of their own. They included me in all their Christmas Eve activities and even had a present for me under the tree. I never felt like a lonely Jew at Christmas.
And best of all was their Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian Christmas Eve feast. Anne-Marie’s dad was a lobsterman and so we had a real bounty of seafood. I remember endless amounts of food coming out of the kitchen—all types of seafood: breaded cod, shrimp cocktail, calamari, pasta with clams, and best of all, pasta with a fiery red lobster sauce. It was incredible!!! All we did was eat, drink, talk, and laugh.
Now that I am an adult and I typically spend Christmas Eve in a more low-key fashion I miss the yearly celebration with my adopted Italian family. This year I decided to hold my own Feast of the Seven Fishes….only since I was dining alone, I had to cut it down to one fish. Pasta Vongole (or pasta with clams) is a recent obsession. Lately, if I see it on an Italian menu I tend to order it. One of my favorite versions can be found at Il Panino in Boston’s North End. But the version below is quite delicious and easy to make any time of year.
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 ½ pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper
Parmesan cheese (if desired for garnish)
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; salt generously. Add the spaghetti, and cook until slightly underdone, about 7 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili; cook until the garlic is golden, about 1 ½ minutes. Add the clams and white wine, and raise the heat to high. Bring to a boil; cover and cook, shaking occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes, until the clams open. Stir in the parsley. Transfer the clams to a bowl and set aside.
3. Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add the reserved pasta water and lemon juice; reduce until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in the butter. Add the clam mixture and spaghetti. Cook over medium-low heat until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and Parmesan cheese.
Recipe inspired by The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics