A masterclass from the pasta blaster
A former colleague’s new book showed me how to solve a problem I’d always had with a classic dish
working at the River Café. When I visited the restaurant he looked like a chef who had found his home.
Eighteen years later, Joe is the head chef at the River Café. He has a book out called The Modern Italian Cook which I thoroughly recommend. It is filled with dishes Joe cooks at home for friends – while most chefs do their “what I cook at home” book as their fifth tome, Joe’s is the real deal. There is no need for fake pictures of friends around the dinner table as there often is in these books.
I thought I would see if he could solve a problem I had with pasta. I love the idea of spaghetti vongole, pasta with clams or cockles, but I don’t like the way it is often served: a big pasta bowl with a thin, winey sauce, some pasta which has barely been introduced to the cooking liquor and a load of shells to fight through. When I looked at the pasta section in Joe’s book, two recipes stood out because they suggested cooking pasta like risotto. Joe says that he is late to the idea but that he recommends it at all is good enough for me.
I ordered some clams from my fish supplier (easy for me to do, but if you can’t get clams, use mussels) and cooked them in the usual way to open the shells. I removed the clams, and gave the linguine a blast in boiling water to soften it. I then finished cooking the pasta by submerging it in the cooking liquor from the clams and adding a bit more as it was absorbed, just as you would for risotto.
The result was spectacular. The pasta was swollen but had a soft bite, the sauce clung to the linguine with just enough starch and every taste – parsley, clam and lemon – queued up to be tasted. I can’t wait to try it with other sauces – maybe even bolognese.
All these years later and Joe is still giving me tips on how to cook Italian food – albeit via a book – and I couldn’t be happier.
Stephen Harris is chef-patron of The Sportsman in Seasalter, Kent, whose many awards include the top spot at the 2018 Estrella Damm Best Gastropub Awards.