bucatini with clams, fennel, white wine & thyme breadcrumbs

clams with linguine is a much-loved favourite and something that i will often order when i eat out. i don’t tend to make it at home but when i had some clams in recently i decided to try suzanne goin’s version a try.

it’s a lot more complicated than my usual, very simple version with chilli, garlic, white wine, clams and spaghetti – red onions and fennel make an appearance, rosemary and bay are the main herbs in the dish and then there are also the thyme breadcrumbs. a lot of strong flavours.

i liked the end result – it’s very different  but the layers of flavour work and i particularly like the woody undertones of the rosemary and bay. i wasn’t keen on the breadcrumbs though – as soon as they go soggy (which doesn’t take long) they turn into something i don’t want to eat. they are a good snack for nibbling on though – the recipe makes many more than you need so you’ll have a little pot to hand for a few days. or you could use them to top a macaroni cheese which would, i think, be a much better use for them. 

suzanne goin’s bucatini with clams, fennel, white wine & thyme breadcrumbs (serves 4-6)

75g cups fresh breadcrumbs

120ml plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1/2 sprig rosemary

2 dried red chillies, plus 1 teaspoon sliced fresh red chilli

250g red onion, diced

250g fennel, diced

2 bay leaves, preferably fresh

25g thinly sliced garlic

bucatini (you could also use or linguine)

1.5kg clams

180ml cup dry white wine

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 lemon

a large handful of chopped parsley

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

clean the clams by placing them in a large bowl filled with cold water for 10 minutes.  add a small handful of cornmeal or a splash of milk to encourage them to spit out any sand.  every few minutes, give the clams a stir.  drain and return to the bowl and cover with some ice and refrigerate until needed.

preheat the oven to 190c. spread the breadcrumbs on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and scatter over 1 tablespoon of thyme.  using your fingers, toss the breadcrumbs to evenly coat with the oil.  place in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until golden brown.

bring a large pan of water to a boil.

meanwhile heat a large pan over high heat for two minutes.  pour in the 120ml olive oil and toss in the rosemary sprig and crumble in the 2 dried chillies with your fingers.  let them sizzle in the oil for a minute or two and then turn down the heat to medium.  add the red onion, fennel, bay leaves and remaining tablespoon of thyme.  season with 2 teaspoons of salt and several grindings of black pepper. cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.  add the garlic and continue to cook for another 3 or 4 minutes until the vegetables are translucent and soft.

now, season the boiling water with salt and drop in the pasta.

add the cleaned clams to the vegetables and stir to coat well.  pour in the wine and cover the pot.  cook until the clams open, about 5 minutes or so (after a couple minutes, lift the lid, gently stir the clams to help redistribute the heat, and re-cover the pan).

when all the clams have opened, remove the pan from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the clams to a large bowl or rimmed baking sheet.  discard any clams that haven't opened.  if you like, you can remove most or all of the clams from the shells to make it easier to eat upon serving.  or you can just skip this step.

when the pasta is al dente, reserve one cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta.  return the vegetable pan to the heat, and add the pasta to the vegetables, tossing the noodles well.  cook 3 to 4 minutes to reduce the juices and coat the pasta.  if the pasta seem too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.  add the butter, a big squeeze of lemon juice, the sliced chilli, the clams, most of the parsley, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a couple grindings of black pepper.  toss well and taste for seasoning.

to serve, pile the pasta in a large bowl in on a platter and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, a little more parsley, and maybe a drizzle of good olive oil.