I left work in the afternoon and took the train home, dreaming of a perfect dish of pasta al dente, tossed with garlic, white wine, red pepper flakes, fresh clams and parsley. I have been thinking about this dish for weeks: the briny taste of the clams, the subtle heat of the red pepper... a bowl of heaven with a hunk of bread and a glass of cool, crisp wine.
It was not to be.
Mistake #1: I Did Not Call Ahead.
I got home, hopped in the car and drove 20 minutes to The Fish Guy, assuming that they would have fresh clams on hand. I walked in and scanned the cases of seafood. Oysters. Fillets of fish. Lobsters. Not a clam in sight. I asked a gentleman behind the counter if there might be some in the back. He walked back to check as I held my breath. He returned with the bad news. No clams. "But!," he said, "We do have these frozen chopped clams! What are you making?" "Pasta," I replied. "Oh, then these would probably be even better! You already came all the way out here," (how did he know?) "you might as well take these instead."
Mistake #2: I Listened To The Salesman.
Skeptical but willing to experiment, I bought the container of chopped clams, made a pitstop for parsley, and then went on my merry way home, hopeful that my dinner had not been foiled. I pulled into a parking spot in front of my building and as I put the car in park, I heard a loud hissing sound. I opened the car door and looked out, and sure enough, one of my tires was completely deflated. I sighed and breathed a prayer of thanks that, if I had to get a flat, at least I was already at home. This way, I can (almost) pretend it didn't happen and my amazing husband can fix it! (Not that I couldn't. I mean, theoretically I could do it... right? But theoretically he could make dinner, and that's not happening, so... it is the way it is. And we like it.)
Mistake #3: I Plowed Ahead With The Recipe As It Was.
I heated up the olive oil. I added my (very) thinly sliced garlic and it toasted beautifully. I added the crushed red pepper flakes and the wine. And then (good grief what was I thinking?!) I just dumped in my mostly-frozen container of chopped clams and tried to defrost and cook them at the same time. Fresh clams should take 3-6 minutes to cook, and then be removed so that they don't get overcooked and tough. I honestly don't know what you should do with frozen chopped clams. It seems like you can easily use canned clams for chowder (which is probably much cheaper anyway), and you definitely shouldn't do what I did with them, so... who knows? Anyway, by the time my block o' clams was melted, the individual pieces were rubbery and inedible. In an attempt to salvage my dinner (thank goodness I didn't have anyone else to feed), I tossed my perfectly-cooked spaghetti in the pan for a few minutes, put some in a bowl, and sat my still-hopeful self down at the table to eat.
The pasta was actually perfect, which made me even more disappointed that I had wasted the time, money, and effort on the stupid clams. If I had just stopped with the oil, garlic, and red pepper, I would have had a perfectly delicious and respectable meal. Oh well. I was able to choke down enough pasta (along with a big slice of bread and a little more wine) to fill me up, but definitely not to make me very happy.
I will not let this failure deter me! I will have my spaghetti alle vongole! Luckily, as I was paying for the clams, the guy said, half-jokingly, "If you don't like them, come back here and I'll give you twenty bucks."
Oh, I'll be back. Stay tuned for part two of the clam saga!