Wallowing: Linguini with Clam Sauce and Chilis

When you break up with someone (or they break up with you), what do you do with the food? You know, the food that you loved to cook and eat together. The food that meant something — although in hindsight, you're not sure quite what. I guess if you hate that person, you just don't eat it anymore. It becomes repellent, like the time I got food poisoning after eating salmon and had to avoid it for several years. Or, even worse, when I was 17 and drank gin for the first time and threw up for 12 hours straight. That was in 1982 and I think it was just a year ago that gin revisited the bottom of my glass.

But, what if you don't want to avoid it? Because you still love the food. Because you still love the person. What if you didn't want to break up. They just chose someone else. So, you're not so much broken up as just broken. Do you give up the food then? It's not like it makes you sick like salmon or gin, but it doesn't make you feel particularly good either, and your friends have been telling you for years (yes, years) that you need to get over it already. You're supposed to heal. In order to heal, do you need to give up the food?

I have a friend who is currently married with two beautiful girls. But there was a time — before the married and way before the girls — that she wallowed for several years about someone else. At one point, just a couple of months before the wallowing came to a close, we made a fire in her parents backyard and burned all of the stuff that he had ever given her. Anything that meant something — shoes, photos, letters.... I'm not there yet. If I purged my house of this relationship, it would be empty. I'm already empty enough. But my fridge is still full.

Tonight I made linguine with clam sauce — one of the last things we ate together, when we knew that it was the end and every moment needed to count. I don't know what makes this recipe I found in the April Saveur so much better than every other linguine with clam sauce recipe I've ever made, but it is. Maybe it's the serrano chile, half of which you stir in with the pancetta and garlic; half of which you sprinkle raw on top. The chile makes it hot — ideal for extra exciting kissing, or for dulling the pain.

I didn't premeditate the meal. Or if I did, I told myself that I made it because S just left for two weeks of summer camp, and she refuses to eat clams. So, I ate them alone while watching Friday Night Lights. In episode one, the gorgeous star quarterback who's sure to take the team to the state championship is paralyzed after a tackle gone wrong, and by episode four, his best friend is sleeping with his girlfriend. That's worse than me. At least I can walk. And then when the new quarterback's dad, on leave for two weeks from Iraq, sees that his 16-year-old son is not only playing football and going to high school, but also earning the rent money by slinging soft serve and burgers and single-handedly taking care of his alzheimer's-ridden grandmother who's locked herself in a closet, he decides to go back to the war and sends his son to live in Oklahoma with a relative. That's worse than me. Way worse. I've never even been to Oklahoma. So, with the help of fictional characters in crisis, I made it through the linguine intact.

Which leaves me with the rest of the food. Do I forgo spicy pork and eggplant? And oysters? And Cuban take-out? And what about the places? Do I stop going to the Cape? Because I'm going on Friday. And, chances are, I'll eat some oysters. Maybe it's a coincidence; maybe not. Maybe I just need to wallow a little bit more. And wallowing is better in the summer by the ocean. With the salty brine of an oyster to wash the memories away.

Linguine with Clams and Chiles
adapted from Saveur, April 2010

kosher salt, to taste
1 lb. pasta, preferably linguine
1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 oz. pancetta, minced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced crosswise
2 serrano peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced crosswise
30 littleneck clams, scrubbed clean
1/3 c dry white wine
3 T chopped flat leaf parsley

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until just al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 c pasta water, and set aside. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until just crisp, abt 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a paper towel and set aside.

2. Return skillet to medium heat and add garlic and half the peppers; cook, stirring often, until garlic is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add clams and wine, increase heat to high, and cook, covered, swirling pan occasionally, until clams open and release their juices, 5 - 10 minutes. Using tongs, transfer clams to a plate and set aside. Bring sauce to a boil over high heat, return pancetta to pan, and add reserved pasta and 1/4 c cooking liquid. Cook, tossing pasta occasionally, until sauce clings, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in some more of the cooking water if it seems too dry. Add 2 T parsley, season w salt, and toss to combine. Transfer pasta to a serving bowl, arrange clams over pasta, and pour over any clam juices from the plate. Drizzle with more olive oil and garnish with remaining serrano.

Wallow if needed; otherwise, just enjoy.