Not too long ago, London-based food photographer, Valeria Necchio, shared a quick and easy Venetian recipe with us for Polpette di Baccalà. Cruising through her Instagram feed last week, I saw a picture of her lunch of spaghetti with clams and agretti (Monk’s beard), and asked if she might share the recipe with us. Monk’s beard is the edible leaf of Salsola soda. It is a green succulent plant that grows in warm coastal areas in the spring and early summer. It has a mineral, savory flavor reminiscent of spinach or samphire, but its crisp, crunchy texture really sets it in a league of its own. Venetians used to treasure it for its ability to turn into soda ash when combusted – an essential raw material for the production of precious Murano glass. A very interesting fact for such a delicious vegetable! If you are unable to find it in a market or the grocery, you can try buying seeds (US here, UK here) and planting for next year! —Kristina
About Valeria: Valeria Necchio is a food and travel photographer and writer of Venetian heritage. A curious eater and keen home cook, she shares her cooking endeavors on her blog, Life Love Food, punctuating her stories with bright images shot in her tiny, yet very well lit, London apartment. Valeria’s work has been featured on a number of online and print publications, including Food52, Kinfolk, Die Zeit and Chickpea Magazine. She is a food columnist for leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Find her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.
Spaghetti with Clams, Monk’s Beard and Lemon
7oz (200g) spaghetti
18oz (about 500g) fresh clams in the shell
¼ cup (60ml) quality dry white wine
4 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small bunch monk’s beard
Zest of ½ unwaxed lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and rock salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Trim the roots from the monk’s beard and wash many times under running cold water, until no trace of sand or dirt remains in the water. Spin dry and reserve for later. Wash the clams to remove any trace of grit and dirt, drain and pat dry with a towel. Set aside.
2. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large nonstick skillet. When hot, add the clams, give them a shake to spread evenly, then cover and allow to cook until they all open – about 8 minutes. During this cooking time the clams will release a lot of liquid. Remove the clams delicately from the skillet and ease them onto a plate, discard any clams which do not open. Pour the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth into a bowl to hold back any grit or little stones, then save the strained liquid for later.
3. Put the clams back into the skillet and heat them up again. When hot, pour in the wine and allow to evaporate. Add garlic and parsley and stir to coat evenly. At this point, sprinkle the clams with a good pinch of salt. Add the monk’s beard, toss, then cover the skillet and let the greens wilt over medium-low heat.
4. When the pasta water is boiling, add a handful of rock salt, then throw in the spaghetti. Cook until very al dente – three minutes less than the cooking time indicated on the package – then drain and add to the skillet with the rest of the ingredients. The heat needs to be on medium-high at this point.
5. Pour in the clam liquid, then toss the spaghetti until all the water has been absorbed. Finish your dish with freshly grated lemon zest and some ground black pepper. Serve immediately alongside the rest of the wine you used at the start.
Why Valeria loves this recipe: Pasta and seafood is hands down one of my most beloved pairings. Being Venetian, fish was a staple in our family – far more than meat! – so pasta with a seafood or fish sauce appeared often on our weekend table. I loved it in all declinations, but spaghetti with clams has always had a special place in my heart. This recipe is a new take on the classic spaghetti con le vongole that includes a seasonal favorite: Monk’s beard added to this recipe enhances the “marine” notes of the pasta while adding a good, crisp bite and a joyful green color to the dish. You can swap it with samphire if you have a hard time finding it. I love this recipe as it feels deeply satisfying and special enough to make for a weekend meal, without demanding long hours in the kitchen. A winner on all fronts.