Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, Nick Balla of San Francisco’s Nombe delighted in the arroz negra served to him by chef Suzanne Goin at Los Angeles’ AOC. What dish have you recently adored, Suzanne?
“I was in Boston a few months ago and ate the most delicious dish at Pigalle. It was basically a ramped up, re-invented version of pasta vongole, but using all the best ingredients of early spring-green garlic, ramps, spring onion, English peas, and fava beans. This combination was great in itself, but tossing the vegetables with clams, squid ink pasta, and smoky bacon bits pushed it way, way over the edge. As much as I am a Californian at heart and I love the “ode-to-the-ingredient” restraint, I am also a sucker for the way Boston chefs really push the food to the limits of flavor, fat, and sexiness. In this case chef Orfaly gilded the lily, and it worked big time!”
Pigalle chef Marc Orfaly explains the dish:
“We bring this dish back every spring in a new reincarnation. I’m a real sucker for clams vongole. I love the dish in its straightforward form, but we’d been playing around with squid ink pasta, so I thought that would be an upscale, cool twist on a classic. The ingredients are simple: olive oil, the onions, white wine, pasta, and clams. We get our clams from Pat Woodbury down the Cape. They’re the closest thing I can find to the Manila clams that Italians use for vongole. The brininess and the juiciness are unbelievable and the muscle itself is really soft.
It’s really simple: I cook up the bacon and reserve the fat to sautee the onions, along with some white wine. I don’t use conventional garlic in the dish, just whatever I have from the onion family, though if I’m using ramps, I do the bottoms first. I think that gives it a really nicely rounded flavor profile. Once it’s cooked down, I add the clams, cover it, bake it for ten minutes and then take the clams out and reduce the liquid down. I then add the julienned ramp tops, along with the squid, which has already been char-grilled. The char gives it even more of a smoky, cool flavor.
A real vongole purist might say you don’t need all that other stuff in there, like the bacon and the squid, but I think everything goes together so well that you don’t even notice.”