Pasta With Pistachio Pesto, Cherry Tomatoes & Clams

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I am really having fun this year creating unique pesto sauces using a variety of different ingredients. I have made pesto sauces using different greens such as arugula and kale, and others by combining some of my favorite herbs including basil, parsley, and mint. In almost all of my pesto sauces I like to add some type of nuts such as pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios. I particularly enjoy using pistachio nuts as they have a very unique flavor that really combines well with both greens and herbs.

I enjoy pasta dishes such as this one that are full of flavor yet can be on the table in under 30 minutes. In this recipe I used littleneck clams, cherry tomatoes, and a pesto sauce made with pistachios and parsley leaves. This pesto sauce really added a bright, vibrant flavor to the dish that was really enjoyable. In this particular recipe, I used cherry tomatoes, but if fresh, ripe tomatoes are unavailable or out of season, you can substitute chopped canned tomatoes, instead. I would use one (14-ounce) can of chopped tomatoes for a recipe this size. I prefer a long pasta shape for this type of sauce, like spaghetti, bucatini, stringozzi (an Umbrian square shaped long pasta), or even a fresh egg pasta such as fettuccine or linguine. In my version shown in the photos I used an Umbria ciriole pasta made from faro which has become one of my favorite pastas recently.

Many folks get nervous about buying fresh clams since they have a reputation for requiring a lot cleaning before use. It’s true that they need a little extra care, but once you learn the basics of choosing, storing, and preparing them, the process becomes significantly less intimidating.

Like all fresh seafood, fresh clams should smell of the ocean—like salt and seaweed, but not at all fishy. The shells should be tightly closed, with no chips or cracks. If you spot one that’s partly opened, give it a tap; if it doesn’t close immediately, it should be discarded. Similarly, any clams that remain tightly sealed after the recommended cooking or steaming period should never be forced open and eaten.Once you get your clams home, immediately unwrap them and store them in a dry bowl in the refrigerator until needed. Though they can keep in the fridge for up to two days, you should generally cook shellfish the same day that you buy it.

When preparing your clams for this recipe, remove any dirt, sand, or seaweed clinging to the shells by scrubbing them with a firm brush under cool running water. Then, about 20 minutes before cooking, soak them in fresh, cool water with two tablespoons of cornmeal. This will help purge any sand remaining within. Once your clams are cooked, discard any that remain tightly sealed: they are not safe to eat.

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Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 2014

Pasta With Pistachio Pesto, Cherry Tomatoes & Clams

Ingredients:

For The Pesto:

  • 1 Cup Fresh Parsley Leaves
  • 1/4 Cup Unsalted, Shelled Pistachios
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste
  • 1 Large Garlic Clove, Peeled

For The Pasta:

  • 1 Pound Long Pasta Of Choice (See Notes Above)
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 Medium Cloves Garlic, Thinly Sliced
  • 1/4 Cup Dry White Wine
  • 1 1/2 Pounds Fresh Small Clams, Scrubbed
  • 2 Cups Halved Ripe Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Red Chili Flakes

Directions:

  1. Combine the pesto ingredients in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, then set aside.
  2. Put a large pot of lightly salted water on to boil.
  3. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until lightly smoking.
  4. Add garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  5. Add the wine and bring to a boil.
  6. Add the clams and mussels, cover, and cook, shaking the pan often until they open.
  7. Transfer the shells to a bowl; once cool, remove the meat from the shells, leaving about a quarter of clams in their shells to garnish the bowls for serving.
  8. Set the clams aside until needed.
  9. Once boiling, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until it is “al dente.”
  10. While the pasta is cooking, add the tomatoes and chili flakes to the clam pot and cook over medium high heat, stirring often until the tomatoes just begin to break down and the juices reduce by half, 2 to 3 minutes.
  11. Return the clams to the pot and keep warm.
  12. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot.
  13. Add the clams, tomatoes, and pesto sauce, and toss well.
  14. Cook for a minute or two over high heat, stirring constantly until it is piping hot.
  15. Serve immediately in individual bowls, with the clams still in their shells on top as a garnish.