may 27, 2020

Viola’s Linguine alle Vongole

Viola tells us "a good linguine alle vongole is still considered a litmus test for any Italian restaurant". Her version of this classic recipe is presented below for your cooking enjoyment - Buon Appetito!
Here’s a fun bonus: if you haven’t had the pleasure of cooking (and dancing) with Viola in the kitchen, we asked her a few questions to give you a peek into her world. Enjoy!
What's your favorite cooking tip? “Cooking is an all encompassing sensorial activity in which taste comes last. Before tasting your food look, listen, smell and touch.”
What's the kitchen tool you can’t live without? “I cannot live without a zester. It allows for an even distribution of flavor, it has shaped a whole new relationship with lemon zest for home cooks.
What are you cooking at home the most right now? “Unsurprisingly, I am cooking more pasta than I usually do, for almost every lunch. My son and I just polished off half a pound of handmade tagliatelle all’amatriciana. Fresh and boxed, short and long, smooth and ridged, I am swimming through a beautiful ever-changing ocean. Pasta is easy, pasta is delicious, and most of all, pasta is home.”
What fruit or vegetable can you not get enough of this season? “Cherries and apricots are my 2 equally favorite fruits, from start to end of their brief season I eat as many as I can to get my yearly fill. In the vegetable realm, I am swooned by anything tiny that speaks of the re-birth of the world that is spring.. Little gems, French radishes, tender zucchini, baby cabbages are all in my refrigerator as I write.”
Who's your cooking idol? “My mother, because she cooked and trained cooks for a large household, visiting relatives and a never-ending flux of friends and she never lost her zest for it.”
What's the cookbook you turn to most? “Il Talismano della Felicità by Ada Boni. It is a 1930's bible of Italian cuisine that was given to young brides, as good cooking was considered critical to a happy married life. The interesting bit is that it was written by a professional woman cook who was able to do what her male colleagues weren’t: translate recipes to fit into the specs of a domestic kitchen.”
What's something you’ve learned to cook or bake recently? “I learned to cook a bouillabaisse by a Michelin starred chef, it was delicious and it taught me that I still prefer my Italian zuppa di pesce.”
What's your favorite place to eat in the Mission and why? “La Taqueria. Flavors are fresh and unapologetic, they have a stable team which means workers are treated well, they are unfussy and humble about what they do and use parts of the animals that are often discarded. Their tongue tacos are one of my top 5 foods in San Francisco.”

Linguine alle vongole

Linguine with clams

Author Viola Buitoni

Yield   For 6 people


Coarse salt to season the water

2 pounds smallish clams

1 clove garlic

1 handful parsley

¼ cup olive oil + some for finishing

1 hot red chili (optional)

½ cup dry white wine

1 pound packaged linguine (or other long pasta like spaghetti)

Salt, to taste

Black pepper (optional), to taste


Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, submerge the clams under running water for about an hour so that they purge all the sand and grit.
Peel the garlic clove. Pick, wash and mince the parsley. Drain and rinse the clams.
Heat the olive oil with the garlic, half the parsley and the chili (if using) in a large sauté pan or wok. When the garlic's fragrance wafts to your nose, discard it. Add the clams.
Splash with the white wine and let the clams open. They should all be open in 5 to 8 minutes. If any remain closed, give them an additional 2 to 3 minutes and then discard them if unopened. Remove them from the pan using a slotted spoon and ensuring that all the cooking liquid remains in the pan.
Cook the pasta in the salty, bubbling water for 3 to 4 minutes less than the suggested time.
While the pasta is cooking, remove the clams from their shell and set aside. If you wish, you can save 3 or 4 shells for garnishing.
When the pasta is quite al dente, remove it from the water with tongs and add it to the sauté pan with a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water, and finish cooking it over high heat. It should take 3 to 4 minutes to finish. It should look creamy and glistening.
Toss in the clams you set aside. If you haven’t used the hot pepper, season with some black pepper and salt (if needed). Transfer to a warm serving bowl, dust with the remaining parsley, and serve right away.