Written by Lara O’Brien
I have a love/hate relationship with Positano. In the summer it is overrun with tourists, overpriced and anything but charming. But off-season it shines as a true fishing village. I first visited Positano on a road trip with two of my closest friends, from Naples to the town of Tropea in Calabria, a sort of weeklong food and wine extravaganza. (Wine seemed to have won out near the end.)
Southern Italy in March is all but abandoned. Our first night we decided to stay in the small but famous and fashionable town of Positano. We checked into one of the only pensione that was open and became somewhat of a curiosity as we strolled through the labyrinth of streets. The sea air, along with the adrenaline high from driving the plunging Amalfi coastal road, had made us ravenous.
We walked down to the beach where only one restaurant was open. Situated right on the water’s edge, we had a clear view of the blue and white fishing boats bobbing in the sea. The restaurant was all but empty and we asked for a table outside (it was about 15 degrees C …that’s 60 degrees F for all you Americans). We, being Canadians, thought it was pleasantly warm. The waiters in their down jackets thought we were nuts.
We all opted for the pasta alla vongole, after assurances from several waitstaff that the clams had been caught that day from said fishing boats bobbing ten meters away. I’m guessing the dish was the fastest to make (which it is) and the chef wanted the hell out of there.
The dish was yummy and briny and within minutes we were a hit with the local gatti.
And though pasta alla vongole can be found on most coastlines in Italy, the Positano dish is the one I’ll remember every time I make it at home. Although not completely traditional, I use a little pancetta—it adds great depth to the dish. It’s traditional as well to serve the seafood pasta without grated Parmesan or Pecorino, but believe it or not, they did offer it to us in Positano (cheese = Canadian?). We declined.
Pasta alla Vongole
Total time:45 minutes
Makes 4 servings
- 1/2 pound spaghetti, linguini, or fettuccini
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons diced pancetta
- 1 teaspoon pepperoncino (red pepper flakes)
- shallot, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 pounds scrubbed littleneck clams
- 1 cup dry white wine (I prefer an Orvieto; it’s light and neutral)
- A squeeze of lemon
- A large bunch of chopped parsley
Get a large pot of salted water on for the pasta. In a heavy-bottomed sauté pan with a tight lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the pancetta and pepperoncino. When the pancetta is crispy, add the shallot and cook until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute.
Toss in the clams, white wine, and the squeeze of lemon and cover with a tight lid. The clams should open up in about 6-8 minutes. Discard any clams that have not opened. There should be enough liquid from the clams themselves and the white wine for the sauce, but you can add a touch of pasta water or a little more white wine if you need more liquid.
Toss the cooked spaghetti into the pan with parsley and serve.