I had never been a member of a book club until last month. I crashed Whit’s. Her friend Kay was hosting at her apartment on Divisadero Street. The book of the month was The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. Being a last-minute attendee, I hadn’t read it. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one. So, we ended up having delightful non-book related conversation and a Middle Eastern inspired meal that corresponded with the book’s setting in Israel. The evening was topped off with Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream and a divine caramelized fig sauce that Kay had whipped up. Oh, and me, in my lifeisrosyaftertwoandahalfglassesofwine happy state, suggesting the next book and therefore volunteering to host the next book club. Was I even a member? Apparently, yes.
I suggested The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr. It’s a book of exquisitely written short stories that make for a relatively quick read. Perfect for book club. I had read the book earlier on this summer and each story was still vividly etched in my memory. That almost never happens.
Selecting The Shell Collector set the wheels in motion for a mollusk-inspired dinner. Mussels in white wine? Maybe. Escargot in garlic butter? Probably not. Clam pasta? Perfect. The recipe calls for canned clams, which are admittedly a little scary in the can, but once they’re nestled in the butterywiltedoniongarlicparsleywine sauce, they morph into bite-sized sea gems. Trust me.
I served the pasta with a big salad – lettuce, sliced plums, quartered figs, goat cheese and toasted sliced almonds.
It was quite good, if I do say so myself. As was the conversation. And the wine. Next month’s book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Perhaps there’s a potato peel pie recipe in little Happelsauce’s future?
Shell Collector Capellini
Serves 4 as a main course
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 smallish white onions, chopped
5 or 6 cloves of garlic, minced
4 oz. canned anchovies, chopped coarse
6 tablespoons of butter
2 teaspoons dried rosemary (or a little more fresh if you’ve got it)
2 10 oz. cans chopped baby clams and their juice
1 pound fresh baby clams, scrubbed
Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 teaspoons dried basil or a handful of fresh, torn
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Dash of red pepper flakes
A couple of dashes of vermouth or white wine (so the sauce is not too thick – the pasta will absorb a lot)
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
Enough capellini for 4
- In a large skillet heat 2-3 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté the onion until wilted.
- Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds or so–don’t brown.
- Add the anchovies with their oil and stir until they ‘melt’ into the sauce.
- Add the butter, another 1-2 T. oil, and the rosemary.
- Open the canned clams and drain their juice into the skillet. Bring the sauce to a low boil and season with pepper to taste. Simmer 5 minutes.
- Add the canned clams and the fresh clams and continue to simmer for another 2 minutes.
- Stir in the oregano, basil, and parsley.
- Thin with a little vermouth or white wine and add lemon juice to taste. If the sauce is too thin, cook it down a bit. If too thick, add more vermouth and simmer a bit.
- Toss sauce with hot cooked pasta, parmesan and red pepper flakes.
- Serve with lemon wedges, more parmesan and a big salad.