Making Memories, and a Precious Pasta

I can’t believe he’s gone. Just like that.

It doesn’t seem possible. It can’t be real.

I’ve found myself thinking about him so much today. The way his smile always warmed my heart. The way his hearty laughter made me want to laugh with him. The way his brow would furrow and that faraway stare when he was lost in thought. The way he’d defiantly toss in that HUGE pat of butter to finish off his Linguine with White Clam Sauce–swoon!

But, as much as I’ve cried since learning of Chef Anthony Bourdain’s passing, I’ve also laughed. I chuckled at the gifs of him giving the camera the finger. He did that a lot; that was just the sort of rebel he was. I’ve snickered sympathetically while watching him struggle to swallow Icelandic fermented shark–ew! And, I’ve literally laughed out loud at his melodramatic moaning over an In-N-Out burger when passing through L.A.!

It was funny because it was endearing. It felt as authentic as the many different types of street food he sought out on television. It was relatable (and kind of a relief) to see that even after spending all those years in restaurant kitchens, he simply wanted to devour some meat and cheese between a couple of slices of bread. To him, that was delicious, and he made no apologies.

On his shows, Anthony Bourdain invited his audience along on this outrageous journey, to places most knew they would never actually see in person themselves. He said, “I’m CURIOUS about (insert obscure food here).” Then, he FEARLESSLY explored war-torn neighborhoods, poverty-stricken villages, and dodgy back alleys to seek out the locals who made said dish.

His towering frame never seemed imposing. He was just the kindly father figure who’d already been here before and wanted to show us the way. And we followed.

It wasn’t clear to me until I actually sat down to write this that I realized why Tony’s passing has hit me so hard. In many ways, he reminded me of my own father. At 6’5, my dad’s presence was certainly commanding, but he was a gentle giant.  Like Chef Bourdain, my dad loved good food and knew how to prepare it himself. But that didn’t mean he looked down on those who didn’t. Instead, he offered to share his knowledge, to give generously of what he’d learned.

But most of all, he was taken from me too soon. My father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer less than three months ago. The last time I saw him, the disease had so ravaged his body, he could no longer do the things he wanted to do. People had been complimenting him on how “healthy” he looked because of how much weight he’d lost, but he could no longer stand without assistance.

The man who had introduced me to the savory satisfaction of smoked salmon and the beauty that is butter (never margarine in his house!), could barely eat. But, we could still talk food. We could still laugh as we shared memories of dishes we’d enjoyed together over the years.

 

I didn’t get a chance to share one last meal with my dad, but I make a point to share every meal I can with my son. He relishes great food, and can fall to the floor with award-winning melodrama after taking a big bite of something he considers delicious. For him, that’s usually a pasta he’s made himself.

 

 

So I think it’s time to cook some of my dad’s favorite pasta. We can do it together, making new memories on which we can look back again and again over the years. We might swirl it with a big glob of butter at the end, like Tony. Or perhaps with a generous dollop of sour cream, like my dad preferred. Or maybe, Our Little Sous just might come up with his own special way to finish the dish. I can’t wait to find out how!

***

 

From ‘Appetites: A Cookbook’ by Anthony Bourdain.

Linguine with White Clam Sauce
Serves 4 as an entree, 8 as part of a multicourse meal

Ingredients:

  • 5 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • 1/4 cup high-quality olive oil
  • 1 head of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more, to taste!)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pound dry linguine
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into a few pieces
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Cooking Instructions

  1. In a large, heavy-bottom pot, bring about an inch of salted water to a boil. Gently place 4 dozen of the 5 dozen clams into the pot, cover, and let steam until the clams have opened, about 5 minutes. Check them frequently, move them around with tongs or a long handled spoon as needed, and remove the clams to a large bowl as they open so that they do not become overcooked and rubbery. Do not discard the cooking liquid!
  2. As soon as the clams are cool enough to handle, remove them from the shell with a soup spoon or clean fingers, keeping them intact as much as possible, and collecting as much of the liquor from within the shell as possible. If they’re a little on the large side, give the clams a rough chop. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl.
  3. Wash out the pot, fill it three-quarters full with heavily salted water, and bring it to a boil.
  4. When the water is just about to boil, warm the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan and add the garlic and pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat, taking care not to let the garlic get brown, which can happen in an instant. Add the wine and increase the heat so that the wine boils and reduces by half. Add the reserved clam liquor and a good splash of the cooking liquid, then the remaining 1 dozen clams. Cover and cook until the clams have steamed open. Remove the clams to the side as they open, and discard any that haven’t opened within a reasonable amount of time. (It’s not terribly uncommon to have 1 or 2 clams per dozen that just never open.)
  5. Add the linguine to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions until just al dente.
  6. While the pasta cooks, add the reserved cooked clams to the saute pan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the butter and toss over the heat until everything is just hot.
  7. Place a colander over a mixing bowl or clean pot, so that you may capture some of the pasta cooking water, and drain the cooked pasta in the colander. Immediately add the pasta to the pan with the sauce. Toss over the heat for 1 minute, adding some of the reserved pasta water, 1/4 to 1/2 cup at a time, if necessary, to loosen up the sauce. Garnish with the parsley, then transfer to a serving bowl. Add the clams in their shells and serve at once.

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