Weeknight cooking from the pantry: Linguine with Red Clam Sauce

by Terry B on April 1, 2009

By keeping a few simple canned ingredients in your pantry, you can have this quick, lively pasta in under a half an hour. Recipe below.

Last week when I used canned anchovies for my Provençal layered pot roast, I hoped Marion would use the leftover anchovies for this perennial favorite at our house. She did. I’ll let her tell you about it.

We originally came across this recipe in Men’s Health magazine, where it was published in an anonymously written column aiming to provide men with simple, nutritious, inexpensive recipes. This was a couple of years before its author, James Beard Award winner David Joachim, published A Man, a Can, a Plan: 50 Great Guy Meals Even You Can Make. I can’t say enough about the usefulness of this little book. It is sensible, clear and direct. It makes a dead run at the young guy who wants to cook and to fix healthy, quick meals without making a big fuss over the whole thing. It has a board book cover and is shaped like a can, with a sensible lay-flat design. What keeps it from seeming childish and gimmicky is its out-and-out practicality. The book cooperatively lays flat when open. You won’t put it on your coffee table, but you will leave it on your counter. The recipes are practical, direct, modest, and fast—it’s pretty much the diametric opposite of, oh, Alinea or El Bulli 2003-2004.

We like our version of Linguine with Red Clam Sauce so much that it is part of our regular rotation—a fast, tasty weeknight dinner or a quick weekend lunch.  And by quick, we mean quick. From start to finish is about 20 minutes, tops.

As with last week’s pot roast dish, the anchovies in here vanish, leaving a flavor that is mysterious and subtle. If you really loathe anchovies, omit them, but the final dish just won’t be as good.

Linguine with Red Clam Sauce
Serves 2

1 10-ounce can of Rotel brand tomatoes with green chiles [see Kitchen Notes]
1 can minced clams
1/2 can anchovy filets or more, minced fine [see Kitchen Notes]
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried tarragon [see Kitchen Notes]
1/3 cup dry white vermouth [see Kitchen Notes]
8 ounces linguine, or the linear pasta you prefer
Freshly grated Parmesan

First, start a pot of water to cook the pasta. When it begins to boil, add the dried pasta, stir, reduce the water to a simmer, and then start cooking the sauce.

In a skillet, sauté garlic for a minute in the olive oil over moderate heat. Pour in the tomatoes straight from the can, juices and all. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the dried tarragon and vermouth and cook for another minute. Then pour in the canned clam juice—not the clams! Simmer for a couple more minutes.

Test the cooking pasta. If the pasta is not yet ready, then turn the heat very low under the sauce. The sauce should not reduce down so that most of the liquid is gone. You want it to be a bit liquidy.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it, rinse quickly in hot water, and return to the pot and put the pot on the stove over very low heat. Pour the sauce all over it. Toss, then add the canned clams and the minced anchovies. Toss again. No salt needed—you’re using anchovies, which are quite the little sodium bombs.

Plate, grate a generous serving of Parmesan over everything, and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Rotel—a versatile bit of spice. We always keep a couple of cans of these slightly spicy tomatoes in our pantry. My first encounter with Rotel was many years ago, in Houston, where the only dish every college kid seemed to know how to make was Rotel Dip—a block of Velveeta melted in a nonstick saucepan with a can of Rotel, then served with tortilla chips or Fritos. It sounds horrible, and I can feel my arteries crispy crackling as I write about it, and now I want some.

If you don’t have a 10-ounce can of Rotel, you can use a 15-ounce can of any brand of tomatoes with jalapenos. If you dislike chiles, you can also use regular stewed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, whatever your liking is in the canned tomato department. But this recipe is really nice with the light zip of green chiles.

Don’t fear the anchovies. Last week, Terry made Layered Pot Roast with Anchovies, Capers and Garlic, which included a few anchovies; I used up the remaining anchovies in this recipe, this time a little more than half a can. As with the pot roast, the finished result here is not all anchovyish. It’s very subtle and nice. The anchovies really do vanish.  Even if you are not an anchovy lover, try this recipe as written. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Tarragon. The original recipe called for basil, to be added at the point when you add the clams and anchovies. I usually let the tarragon stand for itself in this dish. If you have some fresh basil, chop it up and add it at the end.

Vermouth. The original recipe called for white wine. We always have vermouth and I like its slightly more assertive taste and the less acid outcome.

Parmesan cheese? With seafood? I know that traditional Italian cookery frowns on cheese in seafood pastas. But we are not in Italy, and we love the flavor of cheese with seafoods—if we couldn’t mix them, there would be no smoked haddock in sauce mornay :o( ; there would be fewer of the crazy wonders of American regional cuisine, like crab rangoon. Grate away.


{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Jann April 1, 2009 at 2:14 am

I think this is a great book~clear , to the point and not complicated. Loved the recipe! Rotel, have not heard of those tomatoes…..you take fabulous photos!

mary April 1, 2009 at 2:33 am

Yum. I always have these ingredients, including anchovies that have been in my cabinet for a few months. I’m afraid of them. Some day I will get over it.

Eric April 1, 2009 at 3:55 am

I tried the pot roast with anchovies last weekend. Excellent! You have made me an anchovy believer. The “red clams” is this weekend’s dinner. Will any red wine do or do you have a recommendation?

Thanks for your great recipes.


Cathy-wheresmydamnanswer April 1, 2009 at 4:33 am

So funny our dinner tonight looked pretty close to this – Pasta / Garlic roasted tomatoes and shrimp mixed with some olive oil / white wine and some Gorgonzola cheese mixed in !!

Laura April 1, 2009 at 3:10 pm

OK, I bought a can of anchovies on your recommendation from last week’s post. I’m taking the plunge with this tonight.

Carolyn April 1, 2009 at 4:19 pm

ANYthing with hot peppers is fine with me. Looks yummy.

altadenahiker April 1, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Way to go Marion, you got Terry out of the kitchen to do an honest day’s work. I’ll put cheese on anything but ice cream, so this recipe is a go for this week. Thank you.

Terry B April 1, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Thanks, Jann! We always have Rotel tomatoes on hand. One way I use them is to add a little spiciness and flavor when I make Biryani chicken breasts.

Mary—Do give the anchovies a try. My feeling with experimenting with food is the worst thing that can happen is you might not like the end result. After a bite or two, you can always throw it out—I mean, it’s not something permanent, like a neck tattoo.

Glad you liked the pot roast, Eric! I’m thinking of repeating that dish or something like it some time soon. Regarding wine with the linguine, I would actually go with a nice, dry white—maybe the Washington state chardonnay I featured this week.

Cathy—And that sounds like another dish I made recently, kind of a shrimp scampi in which I substituted baby spinach for the parsley!

Laura—Let me know what you think!

Carolyn—We’re right there with you on the peppers. I don’t know if our taste buds have become inured to heat or what, but the Rotel tomatoes seem to be more about big flavor than heat to us these days.

altadenahiker—Now you’ve got me curious about cheese on ice cream!

katrina April 2, 2009 at 2:16 am

Oh, I love the name of that book! It sounds like something I should get for my son, who lives to grill. When you live in New Hampshire, grilling is not an option half the year, unless you’re wearing a parka and carrying a snow shovel. This recipe sounds wonderful – zesty with Rotel & tarragon, a spike of vermouth, and those anchovies I always seem to have , lonely in the cupboard – except when I make anchovy focaccia. I’ll skip the clams, unless I feel a trip to the ER would sparken up my life a little, but otherwise, it sounds just my cup of tea. Thanks so much!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) April 2, 2009 at 4:31 am

Hah — earlier today I was working on a post about Rotel — it’s finally come to Rhode Island, and now I can’t imagine how I lived without it. I always keep a few cans in the pantry, too. And isn’t it satisfying to be able to put together a fabulous meal from pantry staples? I think your pasta dish will become one of my favorites, too.

Christina April 2, 2009 at 4:42 am

Canned clams are an underrated ingredient. This sounds like a quick, easy, and delicious favorite. Yum.

Karen April 2, 2009 at 5:28 am

I have used Rotel is so long, totally forgot about its versatility. I usually us it in Mexican food but can’t wait to try the next time I make Italian.

altadenahiker April 2, 2009 at 9:57 pm

The results of this recipe put four people into a coma of umami. The only changes I made were to add parsley and the whole can of anchovies. And some hot sauce from Belize. Just because.

Terry B April 2, 2009 at 10:23 pm

katrina—When we lived in St. Louis, even in February, neighbors would be grilling most Saturdays up and down the block. A haze of fragrant smoke would hang in the air from late morning until into the night. Granted, it’s no New Hampshire, but winters are pretty serious there. And if you’re allergic to clams, are you not also allergic to anchovies?

Lydia—You are the reigning queen of the pantry. Can’t wait to see what you do with the Rotel!

Christina—This is the only dish we do with clams. I think we need to explore more.

Karen—And as I said above, I’ve also used this versatile Tex-Mex ingredient for a simple take on Indian food—Biryani chicken breasts.

altadenahiker—Reading your comment on the heels of katrina’s allergy-related concerns about gave me a heart attack. But now, I’m thinking you just meant everybody liked it. My attorney advises me to go with that interpretation.

Eric April 4, 2009 at 2:53 am

You guys are amazing! I just finished a Friday night dinner of the “Red Clams”. The anchovies act as a ” there’s something in this that I can’t describe”; a richness, fullness, and depth to the sauce.

I think this sauce would work well as a quick cioppino broth. Add chunks of halibut and salmon, your favorite mussels and clams and you’ve got one heck of a fish stew!!

Thanks and keep the recipes coming.


Kathleen April 5, 2009 at 3:10 pm

I dig anchovies.
I’m going to try this recipe

And I’m buying that book for me.

Terry B April 5, 2009 at 11:29 pm

What a great idea, Eric! The spicy Rotel tomatoes would add an interesting bit of heat to the cioppono, I think.

Kathleen—It’s a really straightforward cookbook full of good, quick, doable recipes that are also mostly pretty healthy too.

RecipeGirl April 6, 2009 at 5:45 am

Looks wonderful! I love the simple sorts of dinners where you can find everything in your pantry. I’d have to get the anchovies, and no… I’m not afraid!

Hillary April 6, 2009 at 9:26 pm

This is a great pasta dish! You should submit it to Presto Pasta Nights.

Eli Miller April 7, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Truly an amazing PASTA dish – I had this PASTA with an Oven Baked Chicken Breast Recipe, found in 2009 Taste of Home Annual Recipes, and it was the best mean I have ever had! Plus it was easy to cook and extremely healthy when cooking with low-fat ingredients!

Thanks, keep cooking!

Erin April 14, 2009 at 3:24 am

Hey Terry! I haven’t been on your blog in a while, but it looks like things have been tasty as usual :) My family always makes lingune with clam sauce for Christmas Eve, but it’s so rich and buttery that I will only let myself eat it one night a year! This sounds like a much healthier way for me to enjoy clams and pasta on a more regular basis. I know my husband will love this one, too.

Denay Davis April 28, 2009 at 5:58 pm

A Man, A Can and A Plan, I am definitely picking this up for my future son-in-law. He is a fairly good cook, but goes out way too much. I may even get this for my daughter, who cooks even less, although she works 124 hours a day. Wonderful Blog and I am making this clam sauce and pasta tonight…will let you know.


Visit Cooking With Denay online

altadenahiker December 30, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Sorry, me again. Made a bit of a mess with your recipe cards, but found what I wanted.

Martina May 21, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Hi there, thank you so much for writing about RO*TEL. We love this recipe and think you should enter it into our recipe contest for a chance to win $2,000. For more info visit http://www.rotelacrossamerica.com

– The RO*TEL Across America Team

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: