Beetlebung Farm - Martha's Vineyard, MA
"My dad used to have a primitive shucking apparatus he kept on the porch—it opened the clams but never failed to chop the bellies in half in the process. I like to chop large hard-shell clams (quahogs) for this dish, so that old machine would come in handy. If you'd prefer, you can steam open smaller hard-shell clams (littlenecks) and then chop them. But either way, don't add the clam liquor to the sauce—it will give it a metallic taste." —Chris Fischer
4 to 6 servings
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced
3 cloves garlic, 2 unpeeled and 1 peeled
About 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional high-quality olive oil for finishing
4 ounces pancetta (or unsmoked bacon), cut into thin lengths
2 medium shallots, peeled and sliced
Generous pinch chile flakes
12 ounces rigatoni
5 quahogs, shucked and chopped, or 4 dozen little neck clams steamed open, shucked, then chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley; pick the leaves from half and chop the rest
About 2 teaspoons minced lemon rind
About 3/4 cup toasted homemade breadcrumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the fennel, 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, and salt. Blanch the fennel and garlic until the fennel is tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the fennel and garlic from the water. Peel the garlic and purée it in a food processor with the fennel, adding a little water to smooth the purée. Reserve.
Sliver half the remaining clove of garlic and mince the rest and set it aside. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add a skim of oil (about 1 tablespoon) and then add the pancetta, shallots, and chile flakes. Give the pan a swirl, then turn the heat down to medium. Cook, stirring frequently, until the pancetta is rendered and browned, about 5 minutes. Add the slivered garlic, turn the heat down and cook, stirring it frequently, until the garlic is toasted, about 1 minute.
Add the pasta to the boiling water. Stir a couple of times to keep the rigatoni from clumping. When the pasta is three-fourths done, about 7 minutes, finish the sauce. Add the fennel purée, the butter, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. If you are using raw clams, add them now so they have a few minutes to cook. Season the sauce with salt, then raise the heat to high and cook until the purée is bubbling and reduces slightly, about 2 minutes. Add pasta water as necessary to keep the clam sauce loose; you want it moist enough to coat the pasta—a ragù.
Cook the rigatoni until it is al dente (usually 10 to 12 minutes). If you are using steamed, chopped clams add them now. Using a slotted spoon, lift the pasta out of the water and into the sauce. Stir or toss to combine, adding more pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce enough to coat the rigatoni. Add the parsley leaves and toss again. Combine the chopped garlic and lemon rind and add the mixture to the sauce. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt.
Spoon the rigatoni onto warm plates. Top each portion with breadcrumbs, season with pepper, drizzle with nice olive oil, and serve.