Magical things can happen in southern Italy. Our 14-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son actually liked the same pasta: spaghetti with white clam sauce. Back in the states, our daughter likes mainly pesto and our son favors tomato sauces.
My wife and our two kids spent about two weeks in Puglia ( pronounced POOL-ya). If you see a boot-shaped country when you look at Italy on the map, you’ll find this region in the “heel” area. (It’s sometimes called Apulia in English.)
Puglia is an arid, beautiful place where we encountered hardly any Americans. There aren’t a lot of travel books on Puglia, very few people speak English, and the road signs aren’t much help. Consequently, we got lost practically every time we ventured out in the car. Once we became so lost an off-duty policeman took pity on us and led us in his car to a winery we were trying to visit.
To get a feel for the people and the cuisine we rented a house outside a small town, Ceglie Messapica, about 15 miles west of the Adriatic Sea. We shopped at outdoor fruit and vegetable markets, and bought fresh cheese and eggs from neighboring farmers.
Local cooks work wonders with vegetables, dried beans and seafood. The healthful, simple cuisine is cooked in extra virgin olive oil.
We arrived in Puglia on the tail end of a stormy week of weather. Rough waters had made it impossible for local fisherman to go out in their boats. The local fishmonger could only shake his head when I asked if he had clams, or vongole.
On our fourth day, however, I knew we’d be having a clam dinner. The storms had passed. And the fishmonger had a broad smile when he saw me. He nodded his head toward the netted bags of small, gorgeous clams on display.
To help us with the local cooking, my wife bought a great book before we left — Puglia: A Culinary Memoir (Oronzo Editions, 2008), by Maria Pignatelli Ferrante. The book is loaded with recipes and information about the foods of the region.
The spaghetti with white clam sauce recipe in the book is simple. The clams are cooked in half a cup of extra virgin olive oil. The liquid they release is the basis for the sauce. We tossed the opened clams, their liquid, and the pasta together with flat-leaf parsley. That was it.
The tiny clams in their shells made for an impressive display. And, to top it off, our kids happily devoured it.
California Olive Ranch