I grew up eating linguine with clam sauce with regularity.  My mom’s version originated in one of those Junior League-type cookbooks, but over the years it became more her own.  When I had my first apartment, the recipe came with me to Boston’s North End, where I prepared it often for my roommate and friends.  It was budget-friendly and made for a great left-over lunch.  Later, it was one of my (now former) husband’s favorite dinners, and I could whip it up in a flash on a work night.   But here’s the thing.  This clam sauce is made with canned clams.

Now, I grew up outside of Boston and shellfish are not difficult to come by.   But the clam sauce we made at home never, ever involved live clams, and I never thought one whit about it.  Sure, I’d eaten linguine with real clams in restaurants, but, in my mind, clam sauce made at home was made with canned clams, end of story.   However, I’ve shared this recipe with acquaintances on several occasions, and I observed a certain reaction when I mentioned the canned clams.  It wasn’t much – perhaps just a “canned clams?” sort of thing – but after a few of these reactions, I began to wonder if it might be worth rethinking the whole canned clam idea.  And so I found myself buying a bag of New Jersey little necks at Whole Foods, in advance of my parents’ visit one recent evening.

If my mom’s recipe was quick, this one is like a lightning flash.  After scrubbing the clams, there just isn’t much else to do.  Mash a few garlic cloves, chop some parsley, cook the pasta.   The experience of eating this version is also more pleasing – nudging the clams out of their shells, the satisfying clinking the empty shells make when you drop them in another bowl, the ocean-like taste that is simply missing from the canned version.

My mom’s recipe, however, will remain in my repertoire.  It’s economical ($2.60 for two cans of clams vs. $20 for the Whole Food bag) and the ingredients are easily at the ready in the pantry.  But perhaps most important, it reminds me of home, my mom, and some of my first cooking experiences.

Mom’s Linguine with Clam Sauce

2 cloves of garlic (or much more)
1/4 c. olive oil
4 Tbsp. butter
2 cans of clams (minced or chopped)
1/2 c. white wine
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1/4 tsp. rosemary, chopped
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 – 1/2 c. clam juice (optional)

Saute garlic in oil and butter.  Drain clams (reserving liquid) and add reserved liquid, wine, and herbs to pan. (You may add additional clam juice to increase amount of sauce.)  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover.  Simmer approximately 5 minutes or so.  Add clams and cook until heated through – do not overcook or clams will be tough.  Pepper to taste.  Serve over linguine.  Serves 4 to 6.

Spaghetti with Little Necks

50 little neck clams, scrubbed
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, mashed
1 c. white wine
1/4 c. chopped parsley
Juice of half a lemon

While spaghetti is cooking, heat oil in bottom of a large pot, add garlic and sweat until soft.  Add clams, wine, and few grindings of pepper and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover.  Stir occasionally and cook until clams have opened, approximately 8-10 minutes.  Add parsley and lemon juice.  Discard any unopened clams.  Spoon sauce over spaghetti.