Recipe: Tagliatelle with Clams and a Parsley and Celery Leaf Pesto
One of the strangest sea creatures I’ve ever encountered, but one I saw almost daily every summer of my childhood, is the horseshoe crab. Sea Cliff Beach, on the North Shore of Long Island, where I grew up, was and still is loaded with them (although I have discovered that they’re now, sadly, on the decline, worldwide). These beyond-ancient-looking things have been around for 450 million years. Despite being called crabs, they’re not crustaceans but more closely related to scorpions and spiders. They look menacing, with their armor-like shells and long, hard tails, but they are as gentle as can be. They would brush up against me when I swam. I’d watch them scurry around near the shoreline, often with their cute babies clinging to their backs. I could easily pick one up and sit it on my lap for a while before it would finally grow antsy and scurry back into the water. I grew to love these sweet guys. When my high school friend Eddie recently went back out to Sea Cliff to visit his mother, I asked him to say hello to the horseshoe crabs for me. He sent me a photo, which was really nice of him (see above). Some years there were so many horseshoe crabs on that beach it was anxiety-provoking but also hilarious, like an old time horror movie, only for real.
The reason I mention horseshoe crabs along with this clam recipe is that Sea Cliff Beach is also where my father and his buddies used to go clamming. And they’d always come back with a good bucketful, usually eating them raw (nobody thought much about pollution back then). The small pebbly beach was quite a happening place back in the sixties and seventies, though more for clams, mussels, gulls, and the lovely horseshoe crab than for its mostly creeped-out beach goers.
Looking at the photo Eddie sent me definitely got me thinking about clams again. But, in all honesty, I’ve been thinking about them a lot this summer. This is the second pasta and clam recipe I’ve put up in a last few months (the first is here). This one is different, less classic. For starters, I’ve chosen an egg pasta, not at all standard fare in my neck of the Mediterranean (and yes, I realize Long Island isn’t on the Mediterranean), but nice for a change, mellower and richer than the traditional hard durum wheat pasta. And instead of the briny, garlicky, loose sauce I usually fashion, I’ve decided to pull the dish together by stirring in a pesto at the end, giving the sauce more texture. I love combining parsley with celery leaves for a more astringent pesto than basil creates. And those two flavors are great with many seafood preparations.
So this new clam recipe is dedicated to my longtime admiration for the horseshoe crab.
Happy late summer to everyone.
Tagliatelle with Clams and a Parsley and Celery Leaf Pesto
(Makes 2 main-course servings)
For the pesto:
About ½ packed cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
About ¼ cup basil leaves
About ¼ cup celery leaves
¼ cup skinned, lightly chopped almonds
Extra-virgin olive oil
For the rest of the recipe:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 fresh summer garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 fresh peperoncino, seeded and minced
The grated zest from 1 large lemon
A big splash of dry vermouth (about ¼ cup)
1½ pounds Manila clams, well washed
¾ pound fresh tagliatelle
Fill a small saucepan with water, and bring it to a boil. Add a little salt. Add all the herbs, and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain, and run the herbs under cold water to stop the cooking and set their color. Squeeze out as much water as you can, and put the herbs in the bowl of a food processor. Add the almonds, and pulse until you have a chunky green mixture (I like it a bit chunkier than a more traditional, smooth pesto). Add about 2 tablespoons or so of good olive oil and a little salt, and pulse to blend. Transfer the pesto to a small bowl, and press a piece of plastic wrap over the top.
Set up a large pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil.
In the meantime, choose a large skillet with a lid. Get it hot over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic, pepperoncino, and lemon zest, and sauté to release their flavors. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Add the clams. Cover the skillet, and cook until the clams open, stirring them around a few times. Turn off the heat.
Add salt to the pasta water, and drop in the tagliatelle. When it’s just tender, drain it, and pour it into a large serving bowl. Add a big drizzle of olive oil and the clams, with all their skillet liquid. Toss. Add the pesto, and toss again. You might not need all the pesto; the texture should remain loose, so hold back a bit if you think it’s appropriate. (You can always use leftover pesto on crostini or as a salsa for another fish dish.) Taste for seasoning. You’ll probably not need more salt, but that will depend on the saltiness of your clams.