gli spaghetti alle vongole: spaghetti and clams
Next time you hear one of his solos, sit and really listen. I mean really listen.
I’m not the first to say this, but the solos of Louis Armstrong are famously appreciated for being reduced to their absolute essence. There is no flab, nothing that can be trimmed away without leaving a gaping wound. His solos are gorgeously spartan, pristine and so sure-footed that generations later, no one has done it better.
I can’t think of another field that hasn’t seen improvements in the last 60 years. Can you?
Spaghetti with clams is like that.
Give me a second.
The older I get and the more my life becomes more and more immersed in food and wine, the more I appreciate that good food can be about the cook-and often is- but great food is always just about the food.
Not only are there not other ingredients, but even these are fairly minimal.
The pan should be hot enough that it catches fire for a second when you add the ingredients. You want the first clam and the last one to open with the shortest amount of time between the two. Douse with a little white wine- for acid to balance the fat of the oil, for a liquid to dilute the salt of clam juice- and to create steam.
When the clams are open, toss with the just barely drained pasta. Pour in a good hearty glug of raw oil (you added just a touch in the beginning so you can taste the raw oil, which is better in flavour and much better for your health). The remaining drops of water will form an emulsion with the oil, anointing the pasta but not drowning it. If it doesn’t occur to you to mouth the word ‘ethereal’ while eating the dish, you’ve been heavy-handed somewhere along the way.
I originally had two sentences about why cheese would be wrong here but I cut them. In the end, if you don’t already know why, I certainly can’t help you.
The more I mature as a cook, the more I stay my hand when it comes to adding more ingredients. The more time I spend in the market finding the best ingredients available, the more I leave them alone in the kitchen.
So the next time you hear his lovely voice building towards a solo, the pocks and scratches, the fever pitch and catcalls of the boys in the rhythm section, the brass keeping time in hard-soled shoes on wooden risers, lean in and really listen.
Listen for the notes that he didn’t play, the virtuoso runs that he didn’t take.
You can’t perfect perfection. The great ones have already beat us to it, both with Louis, and the generations and generations of loving grandmothers that have given us all that we have today.