Vuocolo's Linguine with Clams

Vuocolo's Linguine with Clams

“I don’t touch anything because he’s the boss. If I am lucky, I get to peel a shrimp or something.”
— Jon Vuocolo, son

Who’s the boss? Well, the boss of the Vuocolo family kitchen is none other than Vincent “Jimmy” Vuocolo.  

The youngest of five children, Jimmy grew up in Colliano, Italy.  He started cooking when he was seven years old when his older sister started him on tomato sauce.  At thirteen, he came to America with his family and settled in New Jersey.  His love for cooking continued to grow.  In college, he worked as a chef.  He started off as a dishwasher, graduated to pizza man, slowly ended up on the line and started cooking regularly.  

It is a known fact that restaurateurs do not give away their recipe secrets, so Jimmy was sneaky and learned them while he was cooking in their kitchens.  Among the recipes he acquired was a 280 year old recipe for linguine and clams.  

Jimmy has adapted the recipe over time and it has been part of the Vuocolo family tradition every holiday season.  Jon recounts his attempt to learn this recipe from his father.

 

Jon: I always thought this was a family recipe, but I guess it’s a new family recipe.
Dad: I learned it and I adapted it to my style.  
Jon: Trying to get this recipe out of him over the phone was tough.  
Dad: I don’t like to follow rules.  Never the same way twice.  Variety is the spice of life.

 

As a kid growing up, Jon recalled always having this dish on Christmas Eve.  When Jon got older, he learned that this was actually part of an Italian-American tradition called the Feast of the Seven Fishes where seven dishes featuring seafood would typically be served on Christmas Eve.  

 

Jon: I don’t know if we even get up to seven or eight fish dishes.  Dad’s not a formalist.  Dad even does something a bit unorthodox and puts grated cheese in his pasta. A lot of people wouldn’t want cheese on their fish.
Dad: Damn right.  It’s my food.  I used to get in many fights with restaurateurs about this.  They would say, ‘You don’t need cheese on clam sauce or fish.’  And I say, ‘Who cooked it?  I did!  Who’s eating it? You are.  Give me the cheese.’

 

So folks, step aside and let the boss show you how to celebrate food with his classic linguine and clams.


Getting Started

The Vuocolo family recipe uses Cherrystone clams which are the larger clams found in the seafood section of the grocery store and packs a lot of meat and ocean savoriness.  Littlenecks or cockles are too small and unsatisfactory.  This recipe does not require white wine to make the sauce.  Jimmy states that white wine could be used, but it would alter the flavors.  The sauce is 100% pure unadulterated clam juice.  It takes more work and well worth the effort.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 12-14 Cherrystone Clams
  • 1 lb Pasta (preferably Barilla)
  • 1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Chili (fresno or holland)
  • 4 Tbs Roughly Chopped Parsley
  • 1 Tbsp Pickled Peppers, Chopped (optional)
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese

EQUIPMENT

  • Clam Knife
  • Large Bowl
  • 12-inch Skillet
  • Pot for Boiling Pasta
  • Cutting Board
  • Colander

1. Shuck the Clams

SHUCK THE CLAMS

  1. Rinse and clean the clams under running water. 
  2. Remove the top of the clam using a flexible shucking knife. 
  3. Drain liquor into the bowl, which we will keep to build the sauce. 
  4. Release the meat from the bottom shell and place it in the briny liquor.  
  5. Discard the shells since they are no longer needed. 

PRO-TIP:  Here's an excellent step-by-step instructions for shucking clams.  


2. Prep the Clams

PREP THE CLAMS

  1. Remove clams from the liquor and slice them into 1/4-inch pieces. 
  2. Drain any accumulated juices into the reserved clam liquor.
  3. Keep the meat on the cutting board.

3. Make the Clam Sauce

MAKE THE SAUCE

  1. Use a large 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat.
  2. Add vegetable oil, garlic, hot pepper flakes, and the optional pickled peppers and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until garlic is translucent. 
  3. Turn up the heat and add the sliced clam meat.
  4. Cook until the clams turn slightly pink, 2-3 minutes. 
  5. Add parsley and stir into the sauce until fragrant, another minute.
  6. Carefully pour in 9/10ths of the clam juice and discard the final 1/10th.  The last part contains chipped shells, sand, and other miscellaneous debris that settle near the bottom of the bowl.
  7. Stir the sauce mixture and add 3 healthy pinches of breadcrumbs to help thicken the sauce.  
  8. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook until the sauce turns a pale white.
  9. Turn off the heat and add 3 Tbsp. butter.
  10. Stir until the residual heat melts the butter into the sauce.

PRO-TIPS

  • Cook the garlic  just until they become translucent because burnt garlic is bad for digestion. 
  • Use vegetable oil while sautéing the  garlic because olive oil adds additional unwanted flavor in the sauce.
  • Steaming the clams will overcook the meat and make it tough and too chewy.  For maximum tenderness, shuck the clams and gently stew them in their own liquor.

4. Prep the Pasta

PREP THE PASTA

  1. Place a large pot of water on boil.
  2. Cook the pasta according to package directions to al dente.
  3. Drain pasta through colander, and place pasta back into the large pot. 
  4. Spoon a ladle or two of clam sauce over the pasta to prevent sticking

PRO-TIPS

  • The Vuocolo family prefer Barilla. The noodles retain their structure a lot better and do not absorb additional liquid after cooking.  This quality holds particularly well for next day leftovers.  
  • The pasta rule of thumb is 4 ounces of pasta per person.  1 box of pasta will feed a family of 4.

5. Get Ready to Feast

GET READY TO FEAST 

  1. To plate, add pasta, clam sauce, and clams into a serving bowl. 
  2. Top with remaining parsley.
  3. Add  fresh grated Parmesan cheese.
I don’t just cook food, I celebrate it.
— Jimmy Vuocolo, father
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