Hartnett and Locatelli, Michelin-starred chefs both, disagree whether good vongole has tomatoes or not and, in their books Cucina and Made in Italy, they remain divided. However, on one thing they are both adamant – good vongole uses the freshest clams.
I’d like to say I choose fresh chilli every time as it adds a sweeter, cleaner and more colourful note than its dried compadre but cooking the recipe on a cliff top, a wilderness beach or near to wherever clams like to hang out can often preclude such luxuries. The little critters often choose to live far from the high street.
The beach I choose to collect clams from is covered twice a day by the tide and, when exposed every six hours I take the opportunity to go clam hunting with a rake head, attached to a dissembled paddle end, which makes for the perfect tool. Clams live 6 to 12 inches below the beach surface and are easily found with a little hard raking.
Open or broken clams should be discarded and, after an hour at work, I often have a small bucket full or enough to feed at least three people.
Preparation: Clams should be washed in fresh water first and broken clams discarded.
Cooking: Garlic and fresh chilli are softened in a pan at first. The olive oil and softened garlic and chilli is then joined by the wild fresh clams and white wine and left to steam until the shells open. The whole pan is then tossed with spaghetti (allow the spaghetti to sit in the sauce and on the heat for a couple of minutes for the flavours to be absorbed), sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley (in May and June we garnish with wild garlic leaves), and serve – it’s as easy as that.
Vongole is an age-old traditional peasants dish and, on Octane wilderness expeditions, we eat it like peasants – on a cliff top, on a beach, in the baking sun and in the howling wind.
We catch it, we cook it and, against all the odds, when we eat it, it’s better than any chef of the celebrity moment big city restaurant gastro themed zeitgeist hype. And, when done with eating the world’s freshest seafood, we forego the Uber taxi home for another night of mediocrity underneath the Milky Way.