Sunday, April 07, 2019

Marcella Hazan's White Clam Sauce

Marcella’s recipe for white clam sauce is delicious but its ergonomics are punishing: it references not one but two other recipes, and the second reference itself calls out to another recipe. The result is a feeling of rising panic—are the references in fact circular?—as the clams steam and the pan threatens to smoke. Below is the full recipe, with references interpolated and a few editorial liberties taken.

In the recipe introduction, Marcella credits Cesare Benelli and his “Texan wife, Diane” for this version; the innovation is to reserve the juice of the clams and toss it with slightly undercooked pasta, which then “drinks up all the fresh clam juices, achieving a density and richness of flavor no other version of the dish can match.”

For 4 servings

  • 1 ½ dozen littleneck clams
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic loves, peeled and sliced paper thin
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Chopped fresh hot chili pepper, 2 teaspoons, or to taste
  • 1 fresh, ripe, firm plum tomato, cut into ½-inch dice with its skin on, but
  • drained of juice and all seeds removed
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 pound dry pasta
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, torn into 2 or 3 pieces

Recommended pasta. Spaghettini, thin spaghetti, takes to clam sauces more successfully than other shapes. A close enough second is spaghetti.

Note. In Italy, no cookbook or cook will ever advise you to discard any clams that don’t open while cooking. Clams stay clamped shut because they are alive. The most reluctant ones to loosen their hold and unclench their shells are the most vigorously alive of all. When eating them raw on the half shell, how does anyone know which ones would not have opened in the pot? The clams you should discard are those that stay open when you handle them before cooking, because they are dead.

  1. Soak the clams for 5 minutes in a basin or sink filled with cold water. Drain and refill the basin with fresh cold water, leaving in the clams. Vigorously scrub the clams one by one with a very stiff brush. Drain, refill the basin, and repeat the whole scrubbing operation. Do this 2 or 3 more times, always in fresh changes of water, until you see no more sand settling to the bottom of the basin. Discard any that, when handled, don’t clamp shut.

  2. Put the clams in a pan broad enough so they don’t need to be piled up more than three deep, cover the pan, and turn on the heat to high. Check the clams frequently, turning them over, and when all the clams have opened up, take them out of the pan, using a slotted spoon. Try not to stir up the juices in the pan any more than you must. Detach the clam meat from its shell, and gently swish each clam in the pan juices to rinse off any sand. Unless they are exceptionally small, cut them up in two or even three pieces. Put them in a bowl, pour two tablespoons olive oil over them, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and set it aside for later. Do not refrigerate.

  3. Line a strainer with paper towels, and filter the clam juices in the pan through the paper and into another bowl. Set aside for later. (Note: I’ve never done the filtering; I just pour the juice into a small bowl. —JH)

  4. Choose a skillet or sauté pan broad enough to contain the pasta later. Put in three tablespoons olive oil and the sliced garlic, and turn on the heat to medium high. Cook the garlic, stirring it, for just a few seconds, without letting it become colored, then add the parsley and the chili pepper. Stir once or twice, and add the diced tomato. Cook the tomato for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring it from time to time, then add the wine. Simmer the wine for about 20 to 30 seconds, letting it reduce, then turn off the heat.

  5. Cook the pasta in abundant boiling salted water until it is very firm to the bite, barely short of being fully cooked. When you bite a piece off, it should feel slightly stiff and the narrowest of chalk-white cores should be showing in the center of the strand.

  6. Turn the heat on to high under the skillet or sauté pan, drain the pasta and transfer it immediately to the pan. Add all the filtered clam juice, and cook, tossing and turning the pasta, until all the juice has evaporated. If the pasta was not too underdone when you drained it, it should now be perfectly cooked. Taste it and, in the unlikely event it needs more cooking after the clam juices have evaporated and been absorbed, add a small amount of water.

  7. As soon as the pasta is done, before you turn the heat off, add the cut-up clams with all the oil in the bowl and the torn basil leaves, toss in the pan 2 or 3 times, the transfer to a warm platter and serve at once.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Cauliflower with Meat Confetti and Calabrian Chile

Inspired by Lilia and impressively replicated by Sarah Chihaya.

For 4 servings

  • 1 cauliflower
  • Sopressata
  • garlic, roughly chopped
  • white wine vinegar
  • calabrian chile paste
  • olive oil
  • lemon

  • Make the meat confetti: cut the sopressata into little squares. Add the garlic and soppressata squares to a pan (with no additional oil) and cook till the squares get firm and perhaps even crispy-like. Drain and set aside.

  • In a bowl, combine cauliflower, more vinegar, chile paste, and lemon zest; stir gently. Maybe add a bit of the lemon juice? Top with the meat confetti and garlic mixture. Garnish with parsley, or try fresh marjoram.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Grammar of longing

excerpt from manuscript notes on Farksolia

From a manuscript describing the land of Farksolia, written by Barbara Newhall Follett sometime in her childhood, sometime in the 1920s.

Sunday, June 02, 2013


I’m finally loving inject — it’s gone from an exotic thing of which I’m vaguely aware, to an idiom that feels warm and friendly to use, and bad form not to use.

Say there are a bunch of farms, each with zero or more ponies, and we want to add up all the ponies from all the farms. Without inject, there’s distracting ceremony before and after the iteration:

With inject, the ceremony goes away, and there’s just intention:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pyramidal Tents

Spent last week poking around in the National Archives re: the history of pallets. This is an excerpt from the Daily Diary published by the U.S. Army’s supply depot in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Image of typescript from Jeffersonville Quartermaster Depot's Depot Daily Diary

As excerpted in David Spence Hill, Supply, Stock Control, Storage: Jefferson Quartermaster Depot, An interim report of the Historical Project for the Army Service Forces, Office of the Quartermaster General, 10 Dec. 1944, p. 331.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Title for this Blog

VII. The title of this blog shall be, “Bewilderment and Persistence.”

'Diego', Alberto Giacometti, 1953

Annie Dillard excert re: bewilderment and persistence

Friday, March 08, 2013

Furry Cows

Ran into these cows near Stump Sprouts, in northern Mass., a few days ago. It was snowy.

Suspiciously furry snow cows photo #2

Are they not suspiciously furry?

Suspiciously furry snow cows photo #1

Perhaps they are sheep-cows?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Neko Case

My new favorite lyric:

What purpose in these deeds?
Oh fox confessor, please…

Cover art from Neko Cases's album 'Fox Confessor Brings the Flood'

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Varick Street

Sometimes it’s time to start looking into Elizabeth Bishop! I want to read Helen Vendler’s essay but that’s cheating. Let’s start with a poem. Here’s the opening stanza and a half of “Varick Street,” a few lines at a time:

At night the factories
struggle awake,
wretched uneasy buildings
veined with pipes
attempt their work. Trying to breathe,


the elongated nostrils
haired with spikes

Yes. Nice. I’m in…

give off such stenches, too

The “too” is strange. Distance, complaint… later on there’s more of that.

And I shall sell you sell you
sell you of course, my dear, and you’ll sell me

Oh hi, what’s this thing, a song, a refrain? Apparently it’s songlike but not a song; Google’s first hit for “I shall sell you sell you of course” is “The Flaming Lips will sell you Ke$ha’s blood with their new CD.”

The second stanza begins:

On certain floors
certain wonders

I like this repetition of “certain.” It reminds me of how “other” is used in this poem of Adrienne Rich’s, from Fox:

A life thrashes/half unlived/its passions
    don’t desist/displaced from their own habitat
        like other life-forms take up other dwellings

Dear internet, what is it that’s so lovely about “certain floors” / “certain wonders”? Certain floors; not others. What are on those other floors? No wonders? Or other wonders, different in number or kind from the certain wonders of the certain floors?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shaquille Jones

“God has heard the cry of our youngsters, saying, ‘We are not safe; we are in trouble; we cannot be in the streets; we are not free.’”

This was priest Sully Guillaume-Sam, speaking at the funeral of Shaquille Jones, a 17-year-old student who was shot and killed a few blocks from the South Shore High campus in Canarsie on November 18th.

My article about Shaquille is running in the Canarsie Courier (subscriber-only for the next two weeks); there’s also a slightly longer version here.

Shaquille Jones

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Broadway Junction

Broadway Junction 1

Monday, December 05, 2011

Racial income gap is less bad here

Take a look at the far left edge of the chart; it shows the percentage of families who earned under $10,000 during the year. The light green line shows black families across Brooklyn. The light blue line shows white families across Brooklyn. See how far apart the lines are?

Now compare the darker lines of each color, again way over at the left edge of the chart. That’s the situation in Brooklyn’s District 18. See how much closer the two lines are? The percentage of white families that are really, really poor and the percentage of black families that are really, really poor is nearly equal.

On the right side of the chart, you can see that the pattern holds – though not quite as strongly – for the wealthiest residents, too.

The data I’m using is from the 2005 American Communities Survey (ACS), which is conducted by the Census Bureau, and is adjusted to 2009 dollars.

Sunday, December 04, 2011


L train. They met three years ago, in church.

Subway couple

Subway couple Subway couple Subway couple Subway couple

Subway couple

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rosh Hashanah

Went to the Sephardic Jewish Center in Canarsie for Rosh Hashanah.

Lovely moment: services over, the genders can now mingle.

A man is man is unwrapping his tallis. His four-year-old daughter in a pink dress rushes over to him. She is beaming. She runs in circles around his legs.

He unfurls the tallis behind him, like a cape. She keeps running round and round but now she’s inside the tallis-cape and she’s running clockwise and he swings the tallis-cape counterclockwise and she’s laughing and now it’s a dance.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The best short poem in English

Hi everyone, meet Lycidas, which, I have recently learned, is considered by many esteemed scholars to be “the most emotionally intense and intellectually powerful short poem in the English language.” (Who knew?)

It starts:

Yet once more, O ye Laurels, and once more
Ye Myrtles brown, with Ivy never-sear,
I com to pluck your Berries harsh and crude,
And with forc’t fingers rude,
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Irene came. I had coffee, got untorpid, cleaned my room. We filled up some bottles of water and laughed about how unprepared we were. I read some Lear, hoping to use the occasion to get something more out of the storm scene:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow,
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulph'rous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head; and thou all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o'th'world,
Crack nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once
That makes ingrateful man.

We discovered that Netflix has disappointingly few streaming movies with Spanish subtitles. Children of the Corn was one of the few that does, and it lives up to its title. There are many shots of corn.

Around midnight ran around in Fort Greene Park. It was a good summer rain, but nature’s moulds were not cracked, nor were all germens observed spilling.

Later a tree fell across the street. Thankfully not the elegant gingko which belongs to our author-neighbor.

The kitchen roof leaked a whole lot. Around 3 a.m. Lucas put the puzzle together and noted that all the leaks on three floors of our house were really parts of the same leak. We went up to the roof and finally found the root of the problem: a hole in the gutter. Luckily, we had carrots and Chiclets.

Carrot plugging hole in gutter

Friday, December 25, 2009

Felix Holt gets good

This is a good sentence. This is what we came for:

Since those moments on the terrace, Harold had daily become more of the solicitous and indirectly beseeching lover; and Esther, from the very fact that she was weighed on by thoughts that were painfully bewildering to her – by thoughts which, in their newness to her young mind, seemed to shake her belief that life could be anything else than a compromise with things repugnant to the moral taste – had become more passive to his attentions at the very moment that she had begun to feel more profoundly that in accepting Harold Transome she left the high mountain air, the passionate serenity of perfect love for ever behind her, and must adjust her wishes to a life of middling delights, overhung with the languorous haziness of motiveless ease, where poetry was only literature, and the fine ideas had to be taken down from the shelves of the library when her husband’s back was turned. (Ch. XLIV, Penguin Classics p. 426)

More juiciness:

It was the most serious moment in Harold Transome’s life: for the first time the iron had entered into his soul, and he felt the hard pressure of our common lot, the yoke of that mighty resistless destiny laid upon us by the acts of other men as well as our own. (PC, p. 461)

This same theme and language will later be echoed in Middlemarch, in a description of Fred Vincy: “the iron had not entered his soul, but he had begun to imagine what the sharp edge would be.” (The iron-entering-soul image comes from certain translations of Psalm 105; Laurence Sterne, in A Sentimental Journey, used the phrase in 1768, but Eliot makes it do something slightly different here.)

Dorothea in Middlemarch, Dinah in Adam Bede, and Felix here: all of these characters are struggling to figure out how to live with their brightness and ardor intact, rather than succumb to the moral mediocrity we are all born into, and pulled towards, by a thousand threads—of family, circumstance, social norms, lust, business, worldly ambition or material need, in short, by practicality or convenience.

Eliot underlines the opposition of normal-everyday/power/getting-along-in-the-world-as-it-is vs. spiritual/earnest/illuminated with Harold Transome, who sees Felix Holt’s manner as admirable but “possibly impractical.” For Harold, the man of business and means and ends, what use would it be to seriously consider a way of living that even might be impractical? But Esther, who will ultimately reject him because she chooses the other side of this divide, is transported, is illuminated, by such a life:

When a woman feels purely and nobly, that ardour of hers which breaks through formulas too rigorously urged on men by daily practical needs, makes one of her most precious influences: she is the added impulse that shatters the stiffening crust of cautious experience…. Some of that ardour which has flashed out and illuminated all poetry and history was burning to-day in the bosom of sweet Esther Lyon.

Provincial culture is too stiff, too “crusty.” The imagery is of breaking through to something truer: she “shatters” the scene with her ardour, breaks through the formulas, and in so doing leaves the ordinary questions of embarrassment, sexual innuendo, and social nicety behind. And so “her woman’s passion and her reverence for rarest goodness rushed together in an undivided current.” It feels vaguely embarasssing to like this (what would we think if D.H. Lawrence wrote that last bit?), but also not.