Monday, February 24, 2014

Dinner in a Hurry

Picture of pasta alle vongole

For me, the hardest thing about planning dinner every night is the question: what to make. I look in the fridge and -- ugh! Nothing inspires me.

Many, many years ago [Oh, my goodness. It must be at least 20 years now!], I solved that problem by purchasing a six-week set of menu cards called "More Time Cooks." The boxed set came complete with grocery lists and promised that meals would be on the table within 30 minutes of starting preparing the meal. (They made an exception to their Sunday meals, which took a little longer to prepare.)

Not bad, eh?
Gasp! I have a valuable collector's item in my pantry!
That would pay for my new boots - and then some! Well, maybe not in the condition ours are in.

Sadly, those menu cards are no longer in print, though I see you can get them on for a mere $260. Used.

We still include a few recipes from that set in our rotation on a regular basis. One of those is Linguine (or whatever pasta is on hand) alle vongole. (Vongole means clams.) Served with a fresh salad, it is a really fast, tasty, and healthy meal.

Here are the details so you can add it to your repertoire as well.

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 small onion
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley (start with about 3/4 cup of fresh parsley) (In a pinch, I have used 2 Tbsp of dried parsley, but it's better with fresh.)
1/4 cup clam juice (from drained can)
1/3 cup white wine (or more clam juice)
1 large can (796 mL/28 oz) diced tomatoes
2 cans baby clams (284 g each), drained, with juices reserved. (In fancier establishments they use real clams, in their shells. I am not fancy. Especially when I'm in a hurry.)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Mince the garlic and finely chop the onion and place them into your skillet with the olive oil. Saute until softened, stirring every few minutes.

Rinse your parsley well, especially if you are using curly parsley as it tends to trap bits of grit in the curly leaves. (Which is why I prefer flat parsley, also called Italian parsley.)

I started with a bit too much, so before I minced it I set some aside for garnish. I also was not too fastidious about removing all the stems. Next, measure out the wine.

1/3 cup for the recipe, 1/2 cup for the chef!
Open the tins of baby clams and drain - and reserve! - the juice. Pour 1/4 cup of the clam juice and the wine (or an extra 1/3 cup of clam juice) in with the softened garlic and onion. Stir in the minced parsley.

Simmer this for a good five minutes or so - on a gentle boil - so that it reduces to about half the volume.

At this point, anyone who can smell will be drooling and begging to eat as the smells of onion, garlic, and wine drift through your kitchen.

When it is reduced, add the canned tomatoes.

It's quite watery at this point.

This is a good point to stop if you wish to "prepare ahead" -- if you're entertaining guests or will have a tight turnaround for dinner.

When you are ready to finish cooking, add the baby clams and simmer on low to further reduce the sauce, though it never gets as thick as a classic spaghetti sauce. (Meats get rubbery if you cook them over too high a heat.)

Boil the pasta as directed and to your preferred done-ness.

It is traditionally served with linguine, but in this case, I served Emily's on gluten-free fusilli and ours on spaghetti.

Garnished with a sprig of parsley (which added a noticeable bit of flavour) and fresh Parmesan cheese, it is always a big hit.

This is one of my go-to salads: baby spinach, a red fruit, and feta cheese.
(The one in the picture also has pears and cucumber, I think.)
If I'm serving guests, I add a loaf of crusty bread along with the salad to round out the meal. 

Buon appetito! Let me know if you decide to make this dish. What are your go-to meals when you're not feeling terribly inspired.

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