My first love was a blond blue-eyed 8-year-old by the name of Leandro. At his approach, my heart would beat faster and my bony knees would turn to jello: that is how I knew it was love. I was 7, with jet black hair and dark eyes – by looking at the two of us, I could have passed for a Neapolitan street urchin, not him. Yet, he was Neapolitan through and through, the son of the owner of the resort on the Amalfi Coast where my family chose to vacation for three Summers in a row.
Leandro and I never held hands or, heaven forbid, kissed: thinking back, what exactly did I know about love or kissing boys at 7? There were no hormones to blame either yet, every Summer, as my father began to pack the car, I started imagining how it would be to see Leandro again. Would he still like me? Would he even talk to me? Yes, sofagirl, my career as a professional flirt started early on.
By year three, Leandro had moved on to other girls and I was no longer the flavor of the Summer, which might account for my lifelong disinterest in blond and blue-eyed men.
The memory, though, has endured as much as the taste of the seafood just fished out of the ocean that was dinner most of those Summer nights.
It must be a Pavlovian reflex that, despite living in a place where I have access to seafood all year round, I mainly cook it in Summer: salmon on the grill; clams simply poached and mopped up with crusty bread; barely seared tuna and all manners of chowders and seafood stews. If I end up with some leftover fish stock, I stash it away in the freezer for the day when some flavor enhancing is called for.
Now that my mother is here, pasta is back on the menu more often than the once or twice a month allowed under my watch. Italians are not afraid of carbs, the theory being that pasta does not make you fat, it’s the sauce you add that does, and if the sauce is healthy….I am not trying to disprove this theory, at least not while my mom is here.
Generally, seafood is easy to cook, pretty forgiving (other than scallops) and ready in minutes. Linguine with clams and mussels is always a crowd pleaser and it comes together in minutes – all it needs is some fresh seafood, some olive oil and a handful of parsley. And a splash of wine and maybe some red pepper. The clams and mussels will be done by the time the pasta is cooked and dinner can be on the table in 20 minutes tops.
- For four people, start by rinsing a couple of pounds of clams and mussels, scrubbing them well under cold running water.
- While waiting for the pasta water to boil, chop a large handful of fresh parsley.
- Put a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large sautee pan with a lid, heat it and add a couple of peeled garlic cloves (I am not a big fan of chopped garlic but you can certainly go that way).
- Add the parsley and red pepper flakes to taste. Cook for 30 seconds and dump in the clams and mussels.
- Put the lid on, let cook on medium heat for five minutes and add some white wine, about half a cup. Seal the pot again and let cook for 10 minutes.
- Once the pasta is done (the classic choice would be linguine or spaghetti), drain it, put it back in the the pot and add some olive oil to keep it from becoming a mass of glue.
- Check the clams and mussels: by now they should have opened. Discard the ones that didn’t.
- Set aside some of the seafood still in their shells. Remove the rest from the shells and add them to the pasta together with the delicious liquid that is in pan. Mix well, serve and decorate with some of the pretty clams you set aside.
If you have leftovers, they will be even more tasty the next day.