In his book Heat, author Bill Buford in a molto entertaining manner chronicles his Mario Batali fueled journey of culinary discovery. Along the way he dishes some culinary secrets from the time he spent working every stage in the Babbo kitchen, including, somewhat surprisingly in a biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you kind of way, the fact that in the signature Babbo Barolo Braised Beef, it ain't Barolo they're dumping into the pot, it's low end Cali merlot. Never mind that in the finished product it doesn't make any difference, but it reads like a "wow, I can't believe he said that and Mario must be steaming in his clogs" moment. He also revealed the following recipe for Babbo's Clams and Linguine, which I made at home a couple of nights ago.
This is a classic dish served in virtually any Italian restaurant worth its pasta pot, and the styles are legion. I've made my share. Buford's Babbo-inspired version is one of the best, and simplest, I've had. All those fresh Manila clams swimming in the pork, garlic, and chili infused butter/wine sauce, stirred together with some just al dente pasta...fantastico!! Fast and easy, this also should inspire you to pop a bottle of Italia vino bianco, maybe a crisply fresh Lugana or Arneis.
*** *** ***
Linguine with Clams from Babbo
adapted from Heat, via Bill Buford
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped pancetta
"slap of butter" (3 or so tablespoons)
"splash of white wine" (1/3 cup, perhaps)
16 ounces pasta
3 or 4 big handfuls clams (cockles or Manilas, the little ones, are preferred)
...begin by sautéing pancetta in a hot pan with olive oil. After a minute or two add garlic, chili flakes, and onion. Hot oil accelerates the cooking process, and the moment everything gets soft you pour most of the oil away (holding back the contents with your tongs) and add a slap of butter and a splash of white wine, which stops the cooking. This is stage one.
In Stage two, you drop the pasta in boiling water and take your messy buttery pan and fill it with the big handfuls of clams and put it on the highest possible flame. The objective is to cook them fast--they'll start opening after three or four minutes, when you give the pan a swirl, mixing the shellfish juice with the buttery porky white wine emulsion. At six minutes and thirty seconds, use your tongs to pull your noodles out and drop them into your pan--all that starchy pasta water slopping in with them is still a good thing; give the pan another swirl; flip it; swirl it again to ensure the pasta is covered by the sauce. If it looks dry, add another splash of pasta water; if too wet, pour some out. You let the whole thing cook away for another half minute or so, swirling, swirling, until the sauce streaks across the bottom of the pan, splash with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley: dinner.