Roasting tomatoes on a wire rack with tomato paste and aromatics creates robust flavor for a sauce with briny clams.
Spaghetti with Clams and Roasted Tomatoes
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Pasta with clams is an Italian classic that rests on the shoulders of simplicity: briny, succulent clams in a delicate but flavorful sauce that dresses perfectly cooked spaghetti. In spite of this simplicity, there are a couple of common pitfalls: The sauce can be bland and flavorless, and the clams are often overcooked and rubbery. We wanted a sauce that could stand up to and complement the brininess of the clams, as well as a foolproof method for cooking the clams. We started with a base of tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flakes, and wine. Though the tomatoes added some depth and a savory quality, we still found this version a bit bland and watery. Moreover, the clams were slightly overcooked by the time we added the pasta, a problem easily solved by pulling the clams out of the pot as they opened. To add more flavor and body to the sauce, we decided to roast the tomatoes in the oven before incorporating them into the sauce, which produced a thicker sauce with deeper flavor. Still, the tomatoes leached some water into the sauce, and tasters wanted even more robust tomato flavor. Roasting the tomatoes on a wire rack allowed for better air circulation, concentrating the tomatoes’ flavor beautifully. Tossing the tomatoes with a mixture of tomato paste, oil, and thyme and scattering whole smashed garlic cloves onto the rack with the tomatoes provided extra aromatic depth. A sprinkle of mint contributed a bright counterpoint to this simple dish.
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
Salt and pepper
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and halved
12 cloves garlic, peeled (8 smashed, 4 minced)
1 shallot, sliced thin
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup dry white wine
1 pound spaghetti or linguine
4 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
⅓ cup chopped fresh mint or parsley
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Combine tomato paste, 1 tablespoon oil, thyme, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in large bowl. Add tomatoes and smashed garlic and gently toss to coat. Place 4-inch square of aluminum foil in center of wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Place smashed garlic cloves on foil and arrange tomatoes, cut side down, around garlic. Roast until tomatoes are soft and skins are well charred, 45 to 55 minutes.
2. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallot, pepper flakes, and minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in wine and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Stir in roasted tomatoes and garlic and bring to boil. Add clams, cover, and cook, shaking pot occasionally, until clams open, 4 to 8 minutes. As clams open, remove them with slotted spoon and transfer to bowl. Discard any clams that refuse to open. (If desired, remove clams from shells.)
3. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve ½ cup cooking water, then drain pasta and add to pot with sauce. Add mint and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and adjust consistency with reserved cooking water as needed. Transfer pasta to serving bowl, top with clams, and drizzle with extra oil. Serve.