With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, some of us might be finding ourselves unsuccessfully scrambling for a dinner reservation or a restaurant that isn’t serving an outrageously expensive seven-course prix-fixe menu. Congrats to those who have succeeded and to everyone else, here’s my advice: stay home. Because what could possibly be more romantic than a fresh meal, made in your own home with lots of love? Nothing. (Except maybe the 4-course Valentine’s pre-fixe at Lucques, but I know for a fact it’s all booked up). But seriously, sitting down to a delicious meal at home is probably my favorite thing in the world. And it’s not just the eating part, it’s the whole experience of prepping and transforming ingredients into something wonderfully edible, all while you’re sipping a glass of wine.
For those of you who don’t like to cook, don’t think you have time or always feel too tired, make this dish. It’s easy, and the word “clams” in the title makes it sound fancy. A few nights ago, I came home after a 14-hour sleep-deprived day in my worst state, cranky and hungry. And despite my boyfriend’s offer to pick up “a number 17″ from our favorite pho place, which I could proceed to eat in my pajamas and avoid thinking or standing up again, I just needed to eat something fresh and homemade. So I forced my cranky, exhausted self to stand up, walk to the kitchen and start chopping. And something amazing happened. Before my boyfriend could finish saying ” What are you doing? I can’t believe you’re cooking right now. Are you crazy?” It was finished and I was sitting at the table stuffing heaping forkfuls of delicious, fettuccine into my mouth.
I don’t think my mood swing from rotten to purely joyful and energetic was just because my blood-sugar level might have been low. My impromptu meal had been made with what was already in my house, my exact purpose for my column Perfect Pantry. The word “pantry” in the restaurant world refers to non-perishable ingredients that don’t need to be refrigerated. I work at a restaurant where the chefs go to the farmer’s market throughout the week to get the freshest most seasonal produce, meats, fish, and dairy to make their masterpieces. I see this as my role model: food should be fresh daily and not many things should be sitting in the pantry. In a perfect world (and often I think that world is called France), we would all live next door to a local organic butcher shop, get fresh produce every day, stroll to our local baker for fresh bread whenever we wanted to, have our own herb gardens and raise chickens that lay fresh eggs. But the reality is that I can’t grow an herb garden to save my life. I’ve killed two basil plants in the last 6 months. And quite frankly, who has time to even go to the store everyday much less the farmer’s market? So in my imperfect world, I’ve concluded that it’s okay to use canned foods sometimes. Yes, this dish might be better with fresh clams. I wouldn’t know because I had mine with canned ones and it was good enough for me and my Valentine.
Fettuccine with Clams, Tomatoes and Spinach
- 1 pound whole wheat fettuccine
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons thyme
- 2 tablespoons oregano
- 2 tablespoons basil
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1 (14-ounce) can whole clams, drained
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, chopped
- 2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook fettuccine until tender but still firm to the bite, drain. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter and add olive oil. When butter is melted and oil is hot, add garlic and onions and cook until soft. Add thyme and oregano and basil and stir. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Add clams and simmer on low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Add fettuccine and skillet and using tong, toss with the butter clam sauce to coat. Add tomatoes and baby spinach and continue tossing with tongs. Season to taste with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.