Shhhh: Never was a show-stopper so easy to prepare. Spaghetti with Clams, or Pasta alle Vongole as it's known in Italian, has the hallmarks of a classic dish: fresh shellfish glistening atop a feathery bed of linguini with accents of red tomato and green parsley to draw the eye. The key is live clams (the Vongole of the title); don't even attempt with canned clams. Fresh, live clams taste better, and it's more fun to dig out the meat and suck the juices from the shells. Anthony Bourdain writes about the power—and simplicity—of a winning Pasta alle Vongole in Kitchen Confidential. My preparation is similar, which is to say: quick and easy.
Add a pound of linguini to boiling salted water. Meanwhile, in a deep pan or pot over medium heat, saute a diced shallot and at least 1 tbsp of chopped garlic in a 1/4 cup of olive oil. De-glaze with a half cup of white wine. Add a generous pinch of red pepper flakes and a few rough-cut plum tomatoes. Salt to taste. (Optional: Add a pinch of dried tarragon.) Stir and raise the heat. Add four dozen or more littlenecks—preferably clams you've dug yourself—and cover. Remove the pasta when two-thirds cooked and add to sauce as clams begin to open. (This is the perfect moment to make use of your fancy pasta cooker; if your timing is off you can let the collander of pasta sit out of the water until it's time, then dunk quickly before adding to the clam sauce.) Stir well. When all clams are open, mix in a loose cup of chopped Italian parsley. The linguini should be al dente. Serve immediately with garlic bread and salad. Serves 4 (or 2 at my house). Salute!