Pasta used to be a regular feature on tea noir until I cooked it too often in the first two years of uni that I began to see it as a means to an end. Freshly cooked pasta is a wondrous blend of parmesan, herbs and olive oil but one, two, three day-old pasta becomes goopy threads of its former scrumptious self. Leftover pasta became a symbol for frugality (not that being frugal’s a bad thing) but cooking and eating a week’s worth of pasta to pay off a shopping debt will never make the list of things I’d feel most nostalgic about.
This must be the most pessimistic I’ve been about food so I’m putting an end to this bashing since the problem here isn’t pasta per se, but my incurable health condition where I can’t seem to hold onto any cash for lengthy periods of time. And to finish this poor girl’s tale with a happy ending: after a year of skillful evasion, I am ready to embrace the durum!
What’s different about the way I cook pasta now is that I look for recipes which are more versatile – take my Poor Girl’s Vongole, for instance. I never got sick of it; I had it as a pasta on the first day, as a soup with homemade focaccia on the next, and had a ball picking out the last serving of mussels with a fork. It’s a relatively simple recipe if fresh clams are easy to find for you (i.e. you don’t live in Melbourne). But if you’re in the same sitch as I am, mussels would do just fine. I confess I’m not particularly fond of mussels but this recipe temporarily suspends my hostility towards the poor shellfish – that’s just how good it is!
Poor Girl’s Vongole
Adapted from The Food I Love by Neil Perry
400g dried spaghetti
1kg live clams or mussels
1/2 cup or 125ml extra virgin olive oil
1/4 bunch of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 French shallots, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes (I sliced up a real chilli tho, yeahhhh heat!)
1/4 cup or 60ml dry white wine*
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
*I used apple juice instead and I swear it worked out good. Actually, better than good. Apple juice is a Muslim miracle.
1. Clean the clams by giving them a quick rinse in water. If using mussels, you need to debeard them – this is a slightly time-consuming technique which I am no expert in, so give it a quick google and you’ll know what to do.
2. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the garlic, shallots, chilli flakes and white wine/apple juice and bring to the boil.
3. Add the clams and cover. Steam over high heat for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan, until the shells open.
4. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente, then drain well.
5. Add spaghetti and chopped parsley to the saucepan and toss through. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve in four deep pasta bowls.
Note: Don’t freak out at the overtly generous amount of olive oil you’d have to use. 1/2 cup wtf, even I had my doubts (isn’t that heart suicide?) but the shellfish juices will be released into the oil, turning it into a beautifully light broth. I like it when my ingredients do all the work for me.
Poor Girl’s Vongole is probably best served with your favourite TV show, unwritten essay tucked out of sight and the same cheap bottle of apple juice/wine you used to cook the vongole with – nothing wasted!