When I served this pasta last night to Joe and our friend Caren, I jokingly referred to it as spaghetti with Idaho clam sauce, because fresh clams in the shell were not available when I was growing up in a little farm town on the Snake River. But I did grow up loving clam chowder the way my mother and grandmother made it, from canned clams, along with the oysters in a jar that we looked forward to during the holidays, smelt in season, and all kinds of frozen fish. (And of course, the trout and channel catfish we caught ourselves in nearby creeks and rivers.)
When I moved to San Francisco all sorts of culinary horizons opened up to me, but when I returned to Idaho for a few years, some of them closed back down. (Some didn’t, however. In the interim, for example, squid/calamari had become available in local markets—but still no fresh clams.) I'd developed a taste for clam sauce so I learned to make it with the same canned clams we’d always used for chowder, and that’s how I still make it today.
Last night I cooked 12 ounces of whole wheat spaghetti (for 6 moderate but satisfactory servings). While that was going on, I heated about ¼ cup olive oil in my trusty nonstick wok with the glass lid and then added 4 or 5 large cloves of garlic, crushed, let them sizzle a bit, then added a good handful of chopped parsley and 2 (6 1/2 ounce) cans of chopped clams with their juice, plus part of a ladleful of the pasta cooking water, and let it boil away to reduce a bit while the pasta finished cooking. When the pasta was almost al dente, I drained it and poured it into the wok with the sauce and tossed it well, then let it sit for a minute or two to finish cooking and absorb the sauce. Traditionally one doesn’t put cheese on clam sauce (though Joe and Caren both did).
As you can see, it was a plateful of rather pale food, since I served the pasta with yellow summer squash sautéed in olive oil with minced garlic and some chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil – a very nice combination of flavors though not too visually exciting, since neither the bread nor the white wine expanded the range of hues. I’ll try for something more colorful next week, but this is definitely a quick, tasty, and economical meal.