Galician Black ink
Galicia is a well-known region within Spain for its abundance of seafood delicacies such as Percebes (goose-neck barnacles), Scallops, Octopus – often seen on menus around Spain in an attempt to recreate it in true Galician style (pulpo a la gallega). The list is endless and I had been looking for a reason to try some Galician clams since my trip through the region in 2007, so I thought what better way to rustle up my own version of spaghetti vongole. I arrived in the Galician province of Spain with much anticipation due to what I’d read and heard regarding the infamous cuisine in this North-Western region of the country. I had already been to the Basque country so the bar was raised high, the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastian compared with any other city in Spain accounted for that.
So taking a little inspiration from Rick Stein’s take on Spanish steamed clams (whilst on his tour around Spain) – with a dash of Jerez Sherry and Jamon Serrano – I decide to use some Italian Pancetta with my dish, plus tomatoes, which are noticeably sweeter as we edge closer to Summer (the cherry variety) so they work well with the salty notes. Garlic and onion sweated in the pan give plenty of depth to the sauce that will coat all of the pasta, and I like to salt my chopped tomatoes (chopped into 2 or 3 chunks) before cooking to allow some of the excess water out (this helps increase the concentration of flavour also). The Pancetta should be chopped into pieces slightly bigger than a matchstick but smaller than your little finger and fried until they turn golden and crispy. Fry the onion and garlic until it just starts to change colour: I have become quite the aficionado when it comes to onions and I can’t get enough of the Figueres variety; very typical in Catalunya and they have a much more subtle flavour than their white and red counterparts. The flavours in this dish are all quite delicate so getting the right balance is key to them complimenting one another. I used a local Catalan wine Blanc Pescador which goes great with any seafood dish, it comes from the Emporda region and is made with young grapes comparable to any of those used in Vinho verde in Portugal-a bit fruity with a slight fizz. For those of you not familiar with this wine, here in Barcelona you can find it in any Vinoteca or supermarket for around 4€ a bottle. Use this to deglaze the pan and then throw in your clams, in about 4 minutes you’ll get a whiff of the Atlantic sea as the shells open and release their juices into the pan….Delicious! You want to add the tomatoes and pasta to the clams and broth at the same time and fold everything together for about 2 minutes, just enough time for the tomatoes to start to soften. Toss in chopped herbs and enjoy.
Every neighbourhood in Barcelona has its own market (Mercado del Barrio) and you can get your hands on fish as local as the beaches near Barceloneta and Rio de Besós.
The pasta I chose to use was one I’d acquired last year on holiday in Sicily; infused with squid ink, which does nothing more than create an amazing contrast of colour, but a good quality pasta like this one is necessary and any long variety will work well. Also remember to put your clams into a pan of cold water before you cook them, this will help remove any grit or sand (they are filter feeders). About 20 minutes should suffice.
What you’ll need.
250-350g of fresh clams (depending on variety/size)
50g Italian pancetta
half a small onion
8-12 cherry tomatoes
half a clove of garlic
75ml/5 tbspns of white wine
1 tbspn olive oil
2 tspn Jerez sherry vinegar
250g spaghetti or something similar (I used black pasta)
a small handful of coarsley chopped fresh Basil
a handful of finely chopped fresh Parsley
1. Put the oil into hot pan and add your pancetta. Fry for about 1 or 2 minutes and then add your finely sliced onion. Keep on a medium heat until the onion turns translucent. Add the garlic and turn the heat down to let it all gently sweat for about 2 minutes. Keep stirring to avoid burning the garlic.
2. Your pasta should already be on a rolling boil by now. Add the wine to pancetta mixture to deglaze the pan on a high heat. Add the vinegar and the clams. Cover with a lid and let them steam for about 4 minutes or until all the shells have fully opened.
3. Meanwhile, run the cooked pasta under cold water, drain well and add to the clams once they are opened. Add the chopped tomatoes and fold everything gently for about 2 minutes so the tomatoes just begin to turn soft and the pasta is hot.
4. Throw on the chopped herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Voila!