Pantry Shelf Pasta with White Clam Sauce

This is one recipe that I can truly claim as my own. I am a little fuzzy about the details concerning exactly how it evolved, but I do recall that I started making it more than thirty years ago when I went back to work full time as a high school history teacher.

WP_20160516_005Our children were both in elementary school. They played youth soccer and other sports and had to be transported to practices and games that were invariably located in different sections of town. I also, unwisely it seems now, decided to pursue a graduate degree at the same time. With lessons to plan, papers to grade, course assignments to complete, meetings to attend and all my old responsibilities to try and keep up with, it was an incredibly busy and hectic time in my life. Still it was  mostly “good busy,” and often my husband was able to help out with the children’s transportation. He never missed one of their games. Most nights we were able to sit down together for a family dinner. I did the cooking and tried to limit prep time to less than an hour.

Spaghetti with white clam sauce became a regular on the menu, but, in order for me to get the dish from the pantry shelf to the table in short order, I had to improvise. I don’t recall if I ever used a particular published recipe as a starting point, but I do know that my family liked the addition of flour to make the sauce adhere better to the pasta, and onions to kick up the flavor and texture. They were perfectly happy with canned clams – fresh clams were definitely not an option. Certainly they were not something one would ordinarily have on hand; cleaning them and disposing of  the shells required time that I did not have. Fresh herbs were less off-putting but not available during the long New England winters before grocery stores regularly sold them year round in their produce departments. After some measure of experimentation, I created my own “guaranteed not to fail” version of white clam sauce for pasta that uses ingredients from the pantry (with the exception of the garlic and onion) and can be put together in less than an hour including the time to make a salad to round out the meal. With the addition of some rolls or Italian bread and a glass of white wine, this dish can be served to guests without apology. I am proud to say that it is my contribution to the recipe boxes of both my mom and my daughter. Ciao`

Ingredients and Instructions for Pantry Shelf Pasta with White Clam Sauce

¼ cup of olive oil

2 T of butter or buttery spread

2 minced cloves of garlic

1 small onion sliced and separated into rings

2 cans of minced or chopped clams (drained with liquid reserved)

2 T of flour

¼ cup of minced parsley or 1 T dried

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon of dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 box of linguine or spaghetti cooked according to package directions and drained

Grated Parmesan (optional)


Heat olive oil and butter until the butter has melted.

Add garlic and onions and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent but not brown.

Add drained clams, and sprinkle flour over the mixture, stirring constantly to make a roux.

Add reserved clam liquid and enough water to make 2 cups (sometimes I add a little white wine instead of the water). Stir and let simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add herbs and seasonings.

Serve over pasta and sprinkle with grated Parmesan if desired.

Note: If you have fresh basil and/or fresh oregano, you can substitute about a teaspoon of each for the dried herbs. The flavor will be lighter; my family actually prefers the intensity of the pantry shelf ingredients!



Mother’s Day Quiche: Fit for a Pope


In 1979, Pope John Paul II paid a visit to the city of Boston; it was an historic and celebratory moment. Perhaps no one outside the community’s powerful establishment was more excited and more than a bit apprehensive about the event than Mrs. P., a middle-aged resident of South Boston, who was the long-time  neighbor of one of my mother’s closest friends. Mrs. P. was an accomplished cook and housekeeper who worked at the rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where she frequently cooked meals for the parish priests. Arguably her most daunting assignment came the October day when she was asked to prepare a lunch for the Pope. He had begun his tour with a prayer service at the Cathedral, and afterwards Mrs. P. nervously served him one of  her most reliable dishes, her simple Quiche Lorraine, for which he gave her both praise and thanks. JohannesPaul2-portrait copy.jpgI cannot attest to the accuracy of the details of this anecdote, since it happened quite a long time ago and came to me third hand, from Mrs. P., to her neighbor, to my mom. I can, however, claim the recipe as authentic, although the copy I now reference is new, the original being so spattered and stained that it became nearly impossible for me to read.

The ingredients for Mrs. P.’s quiche are familiar, but what my mother and I appreciated about her version was her careful set of instructions which, if followed closely, would always result in  a perfectly turned out and delicious dish for brunch or supper. The recipe early on became part of my everyday repertoire. A few years ago, when I was coping with the early symptoms of Lyme Disease, my thoughtful daughter arrived at the front door with a cooler of ingredients and three family recipes she knew would cheer me up – chicken pot pie, linguine with white clam sauce, and Mrs. P.’s quiche. With little fanfare, she took over the kitchen, prepared the dishes, stocked the refrigerator, and left us with the quiche hot from the oven. It was the perfect gift for a mother who was not feeling her best and is a lovely dish to serve on Mother’s day or any day when mom needs a break.

Mrs. P.’s Quiche Lorraine

6 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 1/2 cups of Swiss cheese, shredded or chopped into small cubes

1 small onion sautéed in about 1 tablespoon of butter until soft but not brown

3 large eggs

3/4 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp pepper

1  1/2 cups of light cream

9 inch prepared pie crust

Carefully prick the crust with a fork and bake for ten minutes at 450 degrees or until lightly browned. While the crust is baking, combine the eggs, cream, salt, and pepper with a wire whisk. Remove the crust from the oven and quickly brush it evenly with a small amount of the egg mixture to seal it while it is still hot.

Turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the crust with the cheese, bacon, and onion and pour the rest of the egg mixture carefully on top. Return to the oven and bake for another 35 minutes or so until the edges are puffy and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the quiche set for a few minutes before serving.

Note: Check the quiche while it is cooking, and if the crust is becoming too brown, cover the edges with a strip of aluminum foil.

For a larger version, simply increase the bacon by two slices and the cheese and light cream by another half cup each. Use a large onion, four eggs, adjust the seasonings, and bake for about 45 minutes.