Heat in a heavy skillet over medium heat:
1 tablespoon neutral oil such as safflower
Add and brown well on all sides, about 2 minutes per side:
Valentine’s Day dinner at home can be tricky. Many of us have a tendency to make what should be an easy, intimate dinner too “special.” The key is to make something out of the ordinary (and, obviously, delicious) that will not require you to be in the kitchen all night. Unless you’re feeling especially masochistic or have some serious kitchen chops, this means choosing a simple entrée that relies on good ingredients to shine rather than over-the-top preparations. Even for those of you who want to impress your Valentine, we recommend preparing no more than an appetizer (which could be as simple as a good, ripe cheese and a loaf of crusty bread), a salad, a light entrée, and a dessert (preferably made a day or two before). Pay attention to your date!
To that end, we start with a really nice entrée for those of you who like shellfish: Linguine with Red Clam Sauce. We recommend using fresh linguine to “pick up” as much of the clam’s cooking liquid as possible… the reduced mixture of onion, garlic, white wine, herbs, and clam liquor is what makes the dish. Many grocers carry “fresh” pasta, but a good dried linguine will work just fine (overachievers will be rewarded greatly by making it themselves).
Though we think the big flavors of this linguine really stand out, feel free to top each plate with some shaved Parmesan or Romano and a pinch of shredded basil or chopped tarragon.
For those of you determined to make Valentine’s Day a four-course extravaganza, we will be posting recipes for first and second courses, as well as two delicious make-ahead desserts, in the next few days.
If you want to use canned clams, add four 61⁄2-ounce cans of clams with their juices to the cooked pasta. Please read About Cooking Pasta, 320. Heat in a large pot over medium-high heat:
1 tablespoon olive oil
Add and cook, stirring, until the onion softens, 3 to 5 minutes:
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced
1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
(Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes)
Increase the heat to high and add:
2 pounds small clams (such as littlenecks), scrubbed
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
Cover the pan and cook until the clams open. Remove the clams from the broth, discarding any unopened ones; pour the broth into a bowl. Working over a bowl to catch the juices, shuck the clams; if the clams are sandy, rinse them in the broth as you go. Put the clams in a small bowl. Add the clam juices to the broth, strain, and reserve.
Heat in a large skillet:
1 tablespoons olive oil
Add and cook, stirring, for a few minutes:
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Add the broth and simmer until reduced to about 1/2 cup.
Meanwhile, cook in a large pot of boiling salted water:
1/2 pound linguine or spaghetti
Stir the clams and any liquid into the broth. Whisk in:
1 tablespoon cold butter
Add the drained pasta to the sauce, and toss to coat. Season with:
Salt and black pepper to taste