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Bert Greene's Kitchen

Ringing In the New Year With Noodles and Clams

December 26, 1986|BERT GREENE | Greene is a New-York based food writer

Do you ever get the feeling, as I do, that every original notion one comes up with was originally thought of by the ancient Chinese?

I've been brooding about what to serve New Year's Eve to celebrate the event properly. In the past I've managed broiled lobster, but that's messy fare and expensive to boot. Fillet of beef is somewhat more affordable but keeps me up all night with concern about what effect every forkful is having on my cholesterol level. Consuming caviar, on the other hand, would be a dream, but the price per ounce would cause other nightmares afterward. So what's a poor host to do?

I never offer anything that will cause outrageous caloric concern or require reheating. So, after considerable recipe browsing, it occurred to me that the perfect instantaneous dish for this midnight supper would be pasta. Preferably pasta with clams.

Friend Unimpressed

I always spend the last night of the year at my house in Amagansett, near the tip end of Long Island. After I placed my order for several dozen clams, I called a friend, who rarely cooks, to impart what I considered a highly original menu idea. My friend was not particularly impressed.

"Noodles for New Year's Eve? Well, why not. The Chinese have been slurping just that for centuries . . . no, make that millennia. Of course, their holiday is timed to a different lunar schedule, but it's hardly original."

I thought about fireworks in the backyard later, but didn't the Chinese come up with that one too?

What follows are my noodle dishes, one inspired by Italy, the other by Williamsburg, Va.

NOODLES WITH WHITE CLAMS AND SAUSAGES

3 dozen clams, scrubbed

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

2 mild Italian sausages, finely chopped

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

Bouquet garni of 2 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig thyme or dash dried thyme, 1 sprig oregano or dash dried oregano, tied in cheesecloth

1 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon flour

1/2 cup whipping cream or half and half

1 pound noodles

1/4 teaspoon crushed, dried chiles

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Place clams in large bowl. Add cold water to cover and stir in cornstarch. Let stand 15 minutes. Rinse several times under cold running water. Drain.

Saute sausages in lightly greased heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp and rendered of all fat. Drain on paper towels.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook 1 minute. Add garlic. Cook 2 minutes longer. Add bouquet garni to pan with clams and white wine. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and cook, covered, until clams open, about 5 minutes.

Remove clams from saucepan with slotted spoon. Discard bouquet garni, reserving broth.

Remove meat from clams, pulling off beards, and chop. Reserve.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups reserved clam broth and whipping cream. Heat to boiling. Boil until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

Drop pasta in boiling water and boil until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, add chiles, chopped clams and sausage to cream sauce. Cook 2 minutes.

Drain pasta and place in heat-proof serving dish. Pour clam-sausage mixture over top. Toss well and sprinkle with parsley. Makes 4 servings.

JAMES RIVER-STYLE PASTA WITH CLAMS

3 dozen small clams, washed well

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup white wine

8 ounces dried pasta

1/2 cup minced cooked, smoky country ham

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon bourbon

Place clams in large bowl. Add cold water to cover and stir in cornstarch. Let stand 15 minutes. Rinse several times under cold running water. Drain.

Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion. Cook 1 minute. Add garlic. Cook 4 minutes longer. Add cleaned clams, chicken broth and wine. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and cook, covered, until clams open, about 5 minutes.

Carefully drain clams, reserving broth. Return onions and garlic to pot. Add reserved broth. Add 1/2 tablespoon butter and heat to boiling. Boil until reduced by about 1/3.

Meanwhile, remove clams from shells and roughly chop.

Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until just tender. Drain. Return to pan and stir in remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter. Keep warm over low heat.

Add ham to sauce with clams, parsley and pepper. Cook until warmed through, about 1 minute. Stir in bourbon and pour over pasta. Makes 4 servings.

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