Ciao! I was recently in Viareggio, on the coast of Italy, about 15 mins or so from Pisa and on the border of Tuscany. Sadly on a work mission as it happened, and with two days available for me to provision the boat for the season ahead it was extremely hectic. I really hope to never again need to see another Italian shipyard, but you must always embrace what’s good about a place, and we were fortunate enough to sample some wonderful meals in local restaurants which was helped by no electricity on board as the boat was still out of the water. And I can’t cook without power so………YUM! 3 ingredients, sun ripened off the vine cherry toms, basil, and olive oil. Heaven.
The food in Tuscany and the surrounding areas is of course, out of this world. You can stumble on the most amazing Italian farmhouse style grill restaurants all often in the middle of pastures seemingly nowhere, but then somehow just off the main highway ( it’s bizarre!) For the meat lovers out there a mixed grill plate in one of these establishments can blow your mind in its sheer magnitude of beast and varied selection, incredible sausage and of course quality Italian beef is something else again. Exhibit A. Vegetarians forgive me.
Moving away from meat however – this is a speedy recipe, so easy to make, yet soooo tasty and a very popular Mediterranean favourite in pretty much every Italian restaurant nearish the sea. It features a lot in France also, and we are lucky enough here in Antibes to have a great seafood restaurant with a full, fresh cabinet of seafood out front that sells to the public as well as servicing their own needs – and thankfully have the shellfish required to make this Italian favourite.
This one below however, I threw together for crew lunch leaving Viareggio en route to Portafino.
2.5 – 3kg vongole or anything in the family of clams, cockles, pipis
1 litre of fresh fish or vegetable stock
1 large finely diced white onion or 3 shallot onions
good dash of rice bran oil
3 large cloves of garlic – finely chopped
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup of dry white wine
1 cup fresh chopped italian parsley ( dill or chervil optional)
1 packet of dried spaghetti
good salt and cracked pepper
1 1/2 cups of set aside vongole water reserved after you steam the shellfish – dont throw it all down the sink when you drain off your opened shellfish!
In a deep pan, lightly saute onions and half of the garlic till soft and translucent. Add stock and wine and reduce at a simmering boil till the sauce maintains a thicker consistency.
Have two large pots on the boil, the first for the spaghetti, salted and with a dash of olive oil. Add the spaghetti and cook on a rolling boil – usually 8 -12 mins depending on pasta brands and size. Check packet for cooking times.
The second large pot should have about four inches of boiling water in it’s base, and when the pasta is a few minutes away from being ready you can tip your vongole shells in here to simmer and steam open. Once open they are ready, just a few minutes and remember to reserve at least a cup of this water to add to your sauce – gives a great taste of the vongole and a definate boost in flavour.
To your simmering sauce, add gradually some of the reserved clam water. keep it at a medium simmer so it continues to reduce, add the remaining garlic, lemon zest and tons of cracked pepper. Only add a little salt if necessary as the reserved water itself from the shellfish will be naturally salty also.
Place the vongole shells in the sauce and toss together well, DISCARD any unopened shells, and then toss altogether with the pasta and half of the herbs. Serve immediately on a large platter and sprinkle the remaining herbs on top.
I served it with a fresh uncomplicated leafy salad and fresh asparagus.