You may have, as I was, been charmed by Russ Parsons's profile of Matt Molina at the two Mozzas. The article may have, as it did for me, made your mouth water. You may have run, as I did, to the fish store on the way home to make his linguine with clams and chiles as soon as possible.
My question is: did anyone else lose all sensation in their lips, mouth and tongue after eating that dish, as I did and did and did?
I love spaghetti con le vongole - who doesn't? - and Matt 's idea of making a "pesto" of sorts out of hot peppers with which to sauce the dish seemed cunning. Since we're wimpy folk, I halved the amount of jalapenos called for, even de-seeded one, just for good measure, and then only used a quarter cup of the "pesto".
But when the jalapenos hit the hot oil and our apartment was instantly turned into some kind of pepper-spray purgatory, I realized, despite our precautions, that something might be going terribly, terribly wrong. Ben and I staggered around the place, yanking open windows and coughing piteously, but the painful stinging in our throats and lungs and nostrils wouldn't abate.
I went to the stove where the clams merrily steamed away and thought suddenly of this meal, destined for the trash. Is that what we faced tonight? A pile of slippery pasta and lovely, tender, delicate clams destined for the rubbish bin?
Well, dear readers, we did our best. We sat down at the table, armed ourselves with heels of bread and glasses of wine, and went to work. Tears started streaming down our face within a few bites, and then our noses followed suit. In the end, I couldn't handle it - I finished half my plate and realized that my lips, tongue and the insides of my mouth were completely swollen. Ben soldiered on for a few more bites, but even he had to surrender eventually. I couldn't watch as he threw out the rest of the clams and the gorgeous, briny sauce, rendered entirely inedible by all those bits of jalapenos.
So I went back and reread the recipe. Could it be that my jalapenos were hotter than the ones Matt Molina used? Could it be that he meant to say "coarsely chopped withOUT seeds"? One thing is for sure: 3/4 of a pound of linguine is definitely not enough for six people as a main course, so perhaps the 6 jalapeno-strong "pesto" was meant to sauce twice as much pasta? I don't know.
What I do know is that I never want to see another jalapeno again. And if you want to attempt this yourselves, all I can say is proceed with caution.
Linguine with Clams and Chiles
Serves only those people with asbestos-lined mouths
Red chile 'pesto'
6 red jalapeños, coarsely chopped with seeds (yeah, I'd go with two here)
1/2 red onion, diced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1. In a food processor, coarsely purée the chiles, onion and salt. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a trickle to make a coarse sauce. Makes about 1 cup.
Linguine and assembly
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 pound pancetta, diced
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 cup red chile "pesto"
1/2 cup white wine
4 pounds manila clams, scrubbed
3/4 pound linguine (I'd double this)
1/2 cup sliced Italian parsley
3/4 cup (loosely packed) sliced green onions
1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil with the pancetta over medium heat and cook until the pancetta is crisp and lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Drain off half of the rendered fat and add the garlic. Cook until it is light golden brown, 3 minutes. Stir in the red chile "pesto," white wine and clams. Cover the pan and cook until all of the clams have opened, 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
2. While the clams are cooking, cook the pasta in a large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water until it is just al dente, 8 minutes.
3. Drain the pasta and add it to the clams. Place over high heat, ladle in one-half cup of the pasta cooking water and cook, stirring to mix well. Stir in the parsley and green onions over high heat; serve immediately.