"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ronnie Rigoletto’s Pasta

Spaghetti with Clams

This is a delicious clam dish, for you use fresh clams.  Their juice is briny, slightly bitter, and very clammy, and with browned garlic and reduced white wine, the result is a dish of perfect balance:

* 2 dozen “pasta neck” or little neck clams.  Be sure to check to be sure that they are all closed when you buy them.
* 1/4 cup olive oil (as in all my recipes, enough to liberally cover the bottom of a large pot, or about 5-6 Tbsp.)
* 5-6 extra large cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely
* 3-4 shakes hot red pepper
* 1 lg. bunch parsley, coarsely chopped
* freshly ground black pepper
* juice of 1/2 lemon
* 1/2 cup white wine (can be inexpensive wine)
* 1/2 cup water
* 1/2 lb. spaghetti or spaghettini
- Lightly brown the garlic in the olive oil in a large pan – the same pan in which the clams will be steamed.  The trick is to get the garlic lightly browned – not undercooked nor burned.  Undercooking and you get an overpowering garlic taste; burned, well, bitter and nasty.  But browned gives a sweet caramel flavor. One thing to remember – the garlic will continue to brown after you have turned the heat off, so try to anticipate. 

- Add the hot pepper just before the garlic is finished browning

- Add the clams which have been well scubbed; the wine, water, and parsley

- Cook the clams over medium high heat until they open.  Give the pan a few shakes during the process

- When the clams are all open (throw out all clams which have not opened…give them a chance, first, leaving them in for another minute or so), add the lemon juice, and serve over spaghetti.  First ladle on the sauce/juice, then apportion the clams, garnish with parsley.  DELICIOUS!

Crab Spaghetti

This is one of my very favorites.  The first time I had it was at a restaurant, called Vincenzo’s on Dupont Circle.  The restaurant was a real Italian restaurant – the food was perfectly-prepared and –served.  The waiters were attentive and helpful.  The décor was simple – one came to eat.  

Only once did I ever eat at an Italian restaurant with pictures of gondolas, Mt. Vesuvius, and plastic grapes dangling from indoor trellises) that actually was good. I remember the escarole soup in particular.  It was prepared with fresh escarole, and the egg had been dropped in at just the right time. However, New Haven was not a place to get good Italian food.  The old Italian area, Wooster Square (near where my grandmother lived), had been converted to the new Wooster Square; and the food was disgusting – great portions of spaghetti and meatballs falling off the plate because you were expected to take them home; garlicky stuffed mushrooms; “grilled” fish which really meant old frozen fish broiled in butter…..yecccchh; and my own sister who grew up in the same Italian house brought me there.  What was she thinking?

In any case, Vincenzo’s was the real thing.  We had already begun our 5-week summer vacations to Tuscany, and appreciated the fresh, saltless, crusty bread; ordering one course a time (‘How could you possibly know what you wanted for your second course until you had had your first?”); light, fresh, white wine, trays of cheese and dessert, grappa and biscotti. 

I remember having white wine from the recent harvest in Tuscany out of a barrel and from a gas pump nozzle.  It was just a bit frizzante and so refreshing on hot day, sitting outside eating figs plucked from the neighbor’s trees and prosciutto from his cellar. 

One of the first dishes I had at Vincenzo's was Spaghetti with Crab, and here it is, changed over the years a bit, but basically the same:
  * 1/2 container crab meat.  The best option is to have fresh local crabmeat - I get mine from the Dupont Circle Farmers's Market or at Whole Foods.  The pasteurized variety from Indonesia is quite acceptable, but you will notice the difference
  * 1 can low-salt San Marzano Italian tomatoes.  There are some good brands now at Whole Foods; 1/2 can tomato paste
          * 1 lg. bunch fresh basil, chopped coarsely

          * 1 Tbsp. dried basil

          * 4 cloves garlic, chopped

          * 3 Tbsp. olive oil

          * 1/2 cup red wine

          * 3-4 shakes hot pepper flakes

          * 1/2 lb. rigatoni

- Sautee the garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes; then add basil and hot pepper

- Add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, and half of the crab

- Cook 3 hours, more or less over low heat - should simmer, and consistency should be thick and not watery

- Plate the pasta, add sauce, sprinkle with additional crab meat, garnish with parsely, ground black pepper

- Serve

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