Yesterday was not one of those days.
Oh, things went wonky, of course. Things are always a little bit off around here (there is a two-year-old in the mix, after all), and every day seems to have its own detours and moments of hilarity, but serendipity herself came to visit yesterday, bringing little silver linings to each of the day's oddities.
After all was said and done for the long, rainy, chilly day, when all the members of our family had gathered back home for the short dinnertime respite between afternoon and evening activities, when it was time to breathe and to laugh and share time together, I surveyed our options for dinner and realized that my initial plan was never going to work in the time we had remaining. I scrambled around, a little unnerved at first, searching the pantry and the fridge for last-minute ideas, and that is when our old friend serendipity showed up.
Right there in the back corner of the fridge, was a giant batch of fresh whole-wheat pasta that I had rolled out and cut into fettuccine just a few days prior, and there is no meal that cannot be salvaged when fresh pasta is at hand. When time is short, dried pasta can almost always come through in a pinch, but fresh pasta? You could drizzle the stuff with olive oil and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese and call it dessert if you wanted; no one would complain.
There are items I always keep around though, because moments like this happen so often, when time races away from me or when, (cough, cough) like today, I forget to soak the beans and have to scrap my original menu plan; items like flat-leaf parsley, lemons, shallots, and cans of chopped clams. Clam sauce is always easy, never fails to make the kids happy, and though it isn't so exquisite that the average person would write home about it, it can be a revelation when trotted out at a time that I might have needed to resort to fried egg sandwiches.
Not that there is anything wrong with fried-egg sandwiches, mind you.
Within 20 minutes, dinner was on the table, and the silky, fresh pasta elevated the clam sauce to its best day yet around here. I use chopped clams, rather than minced ones, for better texture, and use the clam juice as part of the sauce. It is a rare day that I am such a fan of food from a can, but in this case, I stand firmly behind the convenience, low-cost, and briny flavor. The fresh parsley and lemon zest brighten the dish and save it from being a Pantry Emergency Dinner, and a little pat of butter adds richness and heft to the sauce.
A quick, simple dinner can be such a thing of beauty.
PASTA WITH CLAM SAUCE (serves 4)
Brush toasted baguette slices with a little bit of olive oil and lemon juice, and top with a smattering of the chopped parsley for an easy bruschetta to serve with the pasta.
- 1 pound dried spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine (or fresh pasta, if available)
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 shallots, finely chopped (or 1/2 an onion if that's all you've got)
- 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 cans chopped clams, juice of one can reserved (discard juice from other can)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (cheap old cooking wine is adequate)
- 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
- 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbs unsalted butter
- freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
- freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Cook the pasta in heavily salted, boiling water until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water to thin the sauce as needed.
- While pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the shallots and saute until soft, about 3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and saute for just a minute, taking care not to burn the garlic (burnt garlic can be unpleasantly bitter).
- Add clams, reserved clam juice, wine, half the parsley, and the salt and pepper. Cover the pan, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Whisk in the butter, remove from heat, and toss the pasta with the sauce, adding the reserved pasta water (little by little) if needed to thin the sauce.
- Plate the pasta, and sprinkle with remaining parsley, lemon zest, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.