This article was first written for the Guardian on 30.09.10 - click on to the recipe title for the recipe.
As my memories of walking through ancient olive groves
high up on the Ligurian cliffs begin to fade, I decide to try and recapture
the sparkling blue sea and dappled walks by cooking
linguine alle vongole for supper.
Somehow, this simple combination of garlic, clams, olive oil and white
wine encapsulates the Ligurian landscape. I’d eaten this dish everywhere, from
tiny restaurants in the back streets of Santa Margherita to glamorous cafés in
It’ll be easy, I think. Just cook some clams with a little garlic, olive
oil and wine, then remove and strain their liquor. Fry a little more garlic with some fresh
chilli, toss in my cooked linguine, clams and strained juice, and finish with
parsley. Just to be sure, I flicked
through a pile of trusted Italian cookbooks before cooking the said clams. Is it me, the autumn nights or the telly in
the background? It just doesn’t taste
“It’s partly the oil,” explains Enzo Cassini, Ligurian-born
general manager of Michelin-starred Zafferano in London. “Ligurian olive oil is
made either from small, sweet Taggiasca olives or from Arnasca and Colombina
olives. We use a Taggiasca olive oil here.” (Vittorio Cassini, available from
Selfridges.) The olives are grown at a high altitude and produce a fragrant,
almondy oil, quite unlike a peppery Tuscan oil.
Executive chef, Andy Needham, shows me the ingredients
they use: slow-growing British carpet (palourde) clams which are much sweeter
than their Ligurian counterparts, Ligurian olive oil and Voiello dried
linguine. The latter is Trafilate al
Bronzo linguine n.111, which cooks within five and half minutes. It is cut with
a bronze die, which gives the linguine a slightly rough texture that ensures
that it absorbs more flavour.
Exquisite smells are released as he stirred half a
head of garlic, a strip of finely pared orange zest, fresh thyme and some
finely sliced red chilli into the sizzling clams, before adding a splash of
white wine. I feel as though I’m back in the Italian Riviera.
While the clams are shelled and their liquid strained,
I suddenly understand why my dish hadn’t lived up to my memories – a ladle of
sea bass stock is added. The linguine, already half-cooked in water, absorbs
the broth before being finished off to a buttery consistency with olive oil, a
dash of clam broth and a hint of chilli oil.
Finally the clams were heated through, parsley added and the dish
Back home, I replicated his recipe as best I can and,
much to my surprise, it really did taste of sea, olive groves and thyme.