Remember the rice crispy square commercial (from the 80s?) where a mom is relaxing with a book and then sprinkles flour and water onto her face just before carrying a plate of rice crispy treats out to her family in another room? A voice-over says how these treats take no time at all to make but taste so good that your family will think you slaved over them all afternoon. I’m dating myself at the mention of this, but I think of that commercial when making this Spaghetti with Clams and Shishito Peppers, with a Pancetta-Hazelnut Topping. This is one of those dishes you can make rather quickly on any given night for your family but also elevated enough for your most important dinner guests. And everyone will assume you slaved over it all afternoon too 😉
Shishito peppers have made a big appearance in restaurants and on the internet in North America. If you are uninitiated, Shishito peppers are an East Asian variety of peppers about 2-3” long, green in colour, slender and with a bumpy surface. They’re sort of the Asian version of the Padrón Peppers from Spain. These peppers have a hint of smokiness (reminds me of poblano peppers a bit) and usually quite mild. But once in a while, you bite into one that is hella spicy! My husband and I call it spicy pepper Russian roulette. We love it. It’s part of the excitement of eating them!
But as popular as Shishitos have gotten on restaurant menus, I rarely order them. Why? Because they are inexpensive to buy and dead easy to prepare. As in, mere minutes. They live their best life when they are simply blistered with a teeny bit of oil in a screaming hot pan and generously salted. And that’s the treatment they get here in this dish. Simply charred, seasoned and tossed into the pasta at the end. Their distinctive smoky-mild-sometimes-spicy taste fabulously complements the sweet and briny clams, and the salty crunch of the pancetta-hazelnut topping.
Oh myyy, the topping. Crispy pancetta bits, toasted hazelnuts, fresh herbaceous parsley tossed lightly with a bit of evoo, lemon juice and salt. You might have to hold yourself back from scooping spoonfuls straight into your mouth. Your mind might even wonder if it can be eaten just like that, as a salad sort of. Personal experience! What I’m saying is, do NOT consider skipping the topping. You will LOVE IT.
Do you know what else you will love? With the exception of the pasta noodles, everything from charring the Shishito peppers, to crisping the pancetta, to sautéing the aromatics, to steaming the clams, and to finishing the dish is all done in one pan. Yep, I did it all in that shiny All-Clad 5 Quart Stock Pot with Lid featured in the recipe images. This pan is part of All-Clad’s D3 Compact 10-Pc Set. The ‘compact’ feature is actually in how these full-sized pieces stack up for storage. The lids can be used interchangeably as well for maximum utility and minimum clutter. Brilliant. This is the perfect lead-in for me to share the brilliant news with you that I just signed on with All-Clad Canada to develop a total of six recipes featuring cookware and bakeware from their line-up, which I will be sharing here on the blog from now until early next year. You might have noticed, I am quite choose-y when it comes to partnerships on my blog and Instagram feed. I consider All-Clad’s superior line of cookware and bakeware absolutely worthy of the space here and of your attention. I hope you agree as you see all the upcoming posts. Keep your eyes peeled!
Mise en place: Have all your ingredients measured and prepped before starting (i.e. cleaning shishitos and clams, mincing shallots and garlic). Once the cooking begins, we proceed from step to step rather quickly and the meal is done in no time at all!
Fresh clams: Buy your clams fresh, either the day of or a day in advance. Keep refrigerated in an open vessel with damp paper towels draped over the top.
Spaghetti with Clams and Shishito Peppers
with a Pancetta-Hazelnut Topping
Gluten Free. Dairy Free. Omit pancetta for Meatless / Pescatarian. Serves 4.
For the Pancetta Hazelnut Topping:
¾ cup (100g) whole hazelnuts
4 strips (75g) pancetta (omit for meatless / pescatarian)
Big handful fresh Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp kosher salt, more or less to taste (i.e. more if not using pancetta which is salty)
For the Spaghetti:
1 lb (box) dry spaghetti, gluten-free or regular if gluten is not an issue
4 lbs Littleneck clams (approximately 8 clams per person), scrubbed clean
½ lb Shishito peppers
1-2 medium shallots, minced (about ¼ cup)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup clam juice
½ cup dry white wine OR broth
Fresh lemon juice from 1 whole lemon (or to taste)
Avocado oil or other high-heat oil for sautéing
Kosher salt, to taste
Toast hazelnuts: Preheat oven to 350f. Lay the hazelnuts on a baking tray in single layer. Toast for 6 minutes or until slightly browned and skins are starting to blister and pull away. Remove tray from heat and lay a kitchen towel or paper towel on top to “steam” 5 minutes to loosen the skins. Rub off hazelnut skins with the towel. Some bits of skin remaining is fine. Rough chop the hazelnuts and set aside in a medium bowl.
Get pasta water ready: Set a large pot filled with water on the back burner to bring to a boil. Turn down heat to maintain a simmer if it boils before you’re ready.
Char Shishito peppers: Set a large (4.5-5 quart), wide pan (with a lid) over medium-high heat on the burner directly in front of the pasta pot. Once it is very hot, add a drizzle of oil and toss in the whole Shishito peppers and sauté 5-7 minutes or until the skins are charred to your liking. A good char is key but also don’t overdo it as I find they turn too bitter. Turn off heat to cool down the pan. Toss the peppers with a sprinkle of kosher salt, scoop them out and set aside.
Render pancetta (skip this step if omitting meat): Turn the heat back on to medium under the same pan. Lay pancetta strips down in a single layer and allow the fat to begin rendering out. Once the pancetta strips are nicely browned and crispy, and most of the fat rendered out, pull them out onto a cutting board to cool.
Cook clams: If you have a ton of pancetta fat in the pan, you may want to pour some off, keeping about 2 tbsp only. If you omitted the pancetta, drizzle in 2 tbsp avocado or olive oil into the pan (2 tbsp of butter would be lovely too, if dairy is not an issue for you). Add minced shallots with a small pinch of salt and sauté until softened, then add in minced garlic and sauté another 30 seconds. Add the clam juice and dry white wine (or broth) into the pan. Simmer for 30 seconds to cook off some of the alcohol in the wine. Place clams in, cover with lid and steam over high heat for 3-4 minutes, or until all the clams open. Tap any closed clams to see if they will open with some nudging. If not, discard and do not eat. Turn down heat to keep warm as pasta finishes cooking.
Cook pasta: While the clams steam, cook pasta one minute less than package direction for al dente.
Finish pancetta hazelnut topping: Chop cooled pancetta strips into small bits and combine with chopped hazelnuts, chopped parsley, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and kosher salt. Toss well.
Finish and serve: Once the pasta is done cooking, turn off heat and pull the pasta pot right up against the pot holding the clams. Using tongs, pull out the pasta strands directly into the pot of clams, allowing any pasta water clinging onto the pasta to splash in as well – we deliberately want some pasta water in there. Put Shishito peppers in and toss everything to combine. Decide if you want more pasta water in the pot before placing the lid back on. Simmer for a minute so the pasta absorbs the liquid, being careful not to overcook because soggy pasta is the worst. Taste and do a final seasoning with fresh cracked black peppercorn and more kosher salt as needed. Finish with a big squeeze of fresh lemon and top generously with the pancetta-hazelnut topping.
Serve immediately and enjoy! xx
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