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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

spaghetti with garlicky white wine clam sauce

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Mother’s Day

This time of year I always think a lot about my mom, not just because it’s Mother’s Day, but because it’s springtime, and time to be planting seeds and getting the garden ready. My mom was an amazing vegetable gardener, and this time of year you could usually find her in the greenhouse. I remember the smell of the greenhouse—the rich smell of the dark earth in the big raised beds on each side. In the spring there was usually a faint scent of fish fertilizer, and later in the season, my nose would be filled with the rich aroma of tomato plants. My mom would spend hours each day after teaching school, planting seeds and transplanting little seedlings into bigger pots. She would talk to her little babies, encouraging them to thrive. Later, when school was out, she would spend much of her free time in the garden: weeding, watering, and harvesting, and chatting with the chickens in the yard next to the garden.

On Mother’s Day, though, the focus was on flowers, not on vegetables. Every year we’d get up and make breakfast for her (although she never liked to eat it in bed). After presenting her with our gifts, we’d hop in the car for a tour of the plant nurseries in town. Mid-May in Anchorage is still fairly cool, and it was so pleasant to browse through the huge, humid and fragrantly warm greenhouses, admiring the beautiful varieties of annual flowers and hanging baskets. My brother and I were always allowed to pick out a couple of six-packs of annuals to plant in our own little flower gardens. Even though our little flower patches would get rather weedy toward the end of the summer (we were sick of working in the vegetable garden by that time, too), each spring brought new excitement for our little gardens. Ben usually picked impatiens of some kind—the neon pink or orange varieties, and would then plant lots of nasturtiums from seed. My mom loved when I picked allysum, those mounds of tiny white flowers that smell much more beautiful than they look. We thought it was neat that their name was like mine, and I would usually get some pansies to plant along with them. Of course my mom would always plant lots of flowers from seed, too—cosmos and snapdragons, lobelia and marigolds to fill hanging baskets and planter boxes. And when she would inevitably have many more seedlings to transplant than she could possibly use, she could never throw them away, but distributed them to her friends and neighbors.

While I don’t plant many annuals (and Dan is in charge of our small vegetable garden), I do love my perennial garden. Some of the flowers are already beginning to show some buds!  I’ll write more about that later, though. For now, I’m wishing you and your mothers a very Happy Mother’s Day!

spaghetti with garlicky white wine clam sauce

This is one of my favorite recipes of my mom’s. It’s garlicky and complex from the wine, but it’s not overly rich, since there isn’t any cream in the sauce.  My mom used to make it with her home-made canned clams, even though she didn’t particularly care for clams! Is that true love, or what? I’ve never made it with commercially canned clams, but it’s wonderful with fresh or frozen clams, as well as with home-canned.

Even though I’m not a fan of clam chowder or fried clams, I love this recipe. I’ve served this dish to several clam skeptics with great success! I think you’ll really enjoy it! To complete the meal, just add a simple green salad. 

I have a meat grinder attachment on my KitchenAid mixer that I sometimes use to grind the clams if I’m doing a lot of them at once after a successful clam-digging expedition. I don’t have the patience or the huge pressure-cooker to can the clams like my mom did, but it works just fine to freeze them instead if you have more than you’ll eat all at once. If we don’t come home with many clams, sometimes I just freeze the clams shucked and whole. In that case, I chop them by hand just before I make this dish, when they are still partially frozen, and then when I add the white wine to the clams in the saucepan, I blender them up finely with an immersion blender. You could also do this step in a regular blender.

½ pound spaghetti (I like to use whole-wheat, but white is fine, too)
1 pint of ground clams, cleaned—either fresh or home-canned.  (We grind butter clams or razor clams and either can them or freeze them in pint amounts for this recipe.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1-2 cups dry white wine
fresh-ground pepper
1 or 2 bunches flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1. Boil a large pot of water for the pasta. 
2. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan.  Saute the garlic over medium heat until golden brown.
3. Add the clams and their liquid (if the clams are raw, there won’t be any liquid), the oregano (pulverize it between your palms as you add it), and the white wine.  If you haven’t ground the clams finely yet, do this now with an immersion blender or regular blender. Cook over medium-high heat until the wine is thickened and reduced and the clams are nicely saucy, but not too runny. 
4. When the water boils, add salt and put the pasta in to boil.
5. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and pour it into a large bowl.  Pour the clam sauce over the top of the pasta, more or less covering the center part of the platter.  Sprinkle the parsley all around the edges of the pasta to make a thick moat, and cover the clams in the middle with Parmesan cheese.  Grind pepper over the top of the clams.
6. Serve immediately, tossing the pasta at the table, making sure each person gets lots of parsley and clams.  Pass additional Parmesan cheese at the table. 


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