This post is about vongole (clams) but we must first talk about guanciale, the magical bacon that is cured from the jowl of the pig. It has a flavour that is different to all others. It is bacon, sure, but it has a volume to it, a roundness that consumes you when you eat it. It is big, it is present, and it is one of the best things that you can eat. It is traditionally Italian, and can be tricky to find here, I think because in the main we are so nervous about fat, which is ridiculous as fat is flavour, and we are built to digest it. Partially, it may be because it was traditional to eat the whole of the pigs head here, and maybe not cure it. Guanciale is perfection, eat it, just don’t have it every day.
Clams are perfect with pasta and so good with pork. There is something about the subtle brine and flavour of the sea released from each shell, the slick saline sauce that coats the pasta and compliments the sweet pork meat. The pop that is each small clam as you retrieve it as you eat.
I have made many versions of vongole (Italian for clams) with linguine or spaghetti over the years. This time I had a gorgeous plump sweet Roman tomato, so I put that in. Peeled and deseeded, which is so worth the effort, so that you just get the purity and intensity of the tomato flesh. And who wants to pull tomato skin out from between their teeth? Chilli, because I love it, and it is a perfect flavour enhancer plus it gives a vibrance to the dish. Guanciale is perfection wherever it sits, and it is brilliant here. Peter Hannon makes a terrific guanciale which is stocked at Fortnum & Mason in London, and any decent Italian deli will have it too. If you can’t get guanciale, I would suggest looking online for it, or substitute with pancetta or streaky bacon.
Recipe: Linguine Vongole with Guanciale, Tomato & Chilli
takes 30 minutes
350g fresh vongole / clams
1 gorgeous fresh tomato, peeled and deseeded (peel by cutting a cross in the base & covering with boiling water for 30 seconds, drain and peel skin)
1 mild chilli or some fruity dried chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
50g guanciale, chopped into 1 cm dice
a handful of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
a little fresh cracked black pepper
Soak the clams in water for as long as you have, up to an hour, although just 10 minutes will be ok too. Just to remove any sand that might be still in them. Then drain, discard any that are open and won’t close when you tap them (these are dead) and leave the remaining to the side.
Sauté the guanciale in its own fat for a few minutes over a medium heat, stirring as you do. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for a minute, then add the tomato.
Cook your linguine in salted water until al dente. When there is just a few minutes to go, add a ladle of the pasta water to the tomato and guanciale mix, then add the clams. Cover with a lid for a couple of minutes or until the clams open.
When the pasta has a minute or two to go, drain it and add the pasta to the clams. Stir through ensuring the linguine is well coated in the sauce.
Add the parsley, stir through, check the seasoning and add salt if necessary (with the guanciale and clams you may not need to), and finish with a little black pepper.