Linguine is one of my favorite shapes of pasta. Unlike spaghetti, which, as a kid, reminded me of clunky, unappaeling Chef Boyardee bowls, linguine always felt like an authentic Italian pasta to me, reminding me of carbonara plates served in Tuscany and the like. The difference between linguine and spaghetti–or any of the long, noodle-y Italian pastas, like fettucine–is but a few milimeters, but it means all the difference in the origin of the pasta–and thus the kind of meals that utilize it. Linguine, Italian for “little tongues,” originated in the northern Italian region of Liguria, which holds Genoa as its capital. An important maritime port, Genoa boasts being the home of the pesto sauce, as well as sporting a hefty amount of seafood in Ligurian cuisine. It’s only natural, then, that the most popular linguine dish is linguine alle vongole–or, linguine with clams!
I love linguine with clam sauce, whether it be made in a white-wine based sauce (“white clam sauce”) or a tomato-based sauce (“read clam sauce”). Either way, the dish is full of carbs but not on fat: the sauces are always thin, almost like a broth, even the tomato-based ones. And clams, like many mollusks and seafoods, are very low in fat but high in protein. It means that the ingredients of linguine alle vongole can’t hide behind the bells and whistles of seasonings or get buried underneath a bevy of thick sauce: they have to be high-quality, and they have to all blend beautifully together. And that includes the linguine; it’s not just a semolina vehicle to get all those clams to your mouth! And no restaurant knows that better than Esca in Hell’s Kitchen. They know to keep their linguine alle vongole blissfully simple, including the most basic of white clam sauce so you can really taste the freshness of the seafood. Esca gives their linguine dish a little kick by adding chile peppers and strips of pancetta to the mix, making it a unique meal that you certainly won’t find in Genoa. It’s so celebrated that the recipe for the dish has been featured by the James Beard Foundation–the grand poobah of culinary awards organizations. With such a pedigree and an interesting spin on an old classic, you’ve got to try this one out for yourself.
402 W 43rd St (between 10th Ave & 9th Ave)
“Esca’s linguine with clams might very well be New York’s best pasta dish — it’s simple, but profoundly delicious. Dave Pasternack steams mahogany clams in a stock made with olive oil, white wine, parsley, garlic, shallots, strips of pancetta, and red chili peppers. Once the clams are open, the pasta is tossed with the shells and the stock, and the mixture goes onto the plate. The fresh clam flavor is nicely accented by the richness from the pancetta, and there’s just a bit of kick at the end from the peppers.”–NY Eater
“You can’t argue with this classic combination of clams, olive oil, garlic, and parsley—it’s almost foolproof. There were certainly no dissenting voices heard when David Pasternack served it at the Beard House.”–James Beard Foundation
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Linguine with briny mahogany clams, hot red pepper and pancetta – My boyfriend ordered this and loved it. The waiter warned of it being a bit salty. Some may say that it is too salty, but he liked it. Saltier than the linguine with clams and pancetta at Babbo. Depends on your palate if you think it’s too much, I guess.”–Antonette L.
“The pasta with clam sauce is the BEST I’ve eaten, done perfectly and the freshest clams. The raw langostine still moving in my plate couldn’t be fresher. Raw Oysters delicious. All the pasta dishes are great.”–Marida S.
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