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Clams in Spicy Tomato Sauce with Fennel & Bacon

Power Ballads Optional.

This Valentine’s Day, rather than succumbing to some over-priced yet lackluster dinner out, why not cozy up in the comfort of your own kitchen? Surely the home fires burn more brightly than that faux flickering electric candle on the table at your local restaurant. Should you doubt that statement, consider the following advantages to dining in on this Hallmark-iest of all holidays: 

Your own soundtrack!
Do you really want to be subjected to You’re the Inspiration and  I Want to Know What Love is? Maybe you do, and that’s cool. I guess. Either way, whatever gets you in the mood musically, you can control. Bonus points for making your own playlist, or better yet, a mixtape! Remember those?

Side note: I encourage you to watch the video for You’re the Inspiration and consider the following questions:
Is Peter Cetera wearing a Bauhaus shirt beneath his jacket?
What’s up with the out-of-place punker couple giving each other noogies? How many keyboards appear in this video? And is Peter Cetera a closet goth? Comment below!

Clothing is optional!  
OK, this is slightly risky in an environment with open flames, so at least wear an apron to protect the most salient parts, OK? And maybe draw the shades while you’re at it.

These Clams!
This is a straightforward recipe that looks impressive but is quite easy to pull off, even on a weeknight. Clams quickly cook in a spicy tomato sauce laced with bacon’s richness and enhanced by the sweetness of fennel and onions. The whole thing is served on a comfortable bed (wink wink) of fettuccine, then finished off with a fistful of bright, fresh herbs. If this doesn’t warm all the hearts in your house, probably nothing will.

Queue the playlist!


Clams in Spicy Tomato Sauce with Fennel and Bacon

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4
Author The Irrational Parsnip


  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz. bacon preferably thick-cut, sliced into lardons (see note below)
  • 8 oz. fennel, diced from about one medium-sized bulb. Reserve fronds for garnish.
  • 8 oz. onion, diced from about one medium onion
  • 5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper add more for extra fire!
  • 3-4 dozen little neck or cherry stone clams, cleaned
  • 1 lb. fettuccine or similar shaped pasta
  • 1/3 cup mixed herbs, e.g. fennel fronds, parsley, chervil


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
  • While the water comes to a boil, scrub the clams.
  • Heat large sauté pan over medium high and add olive oil. Once oil is shimmering, add bacon and cook until fat is rendered. Remove bacon from pan with slotted soon and set aside.
  • Add fennel and onion to pan and cook until onion is transparent and fennel is fragrant, about 5 minutes. You don’t want the onion to brown so reduce heat slightly if necessary. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Add tomatoes, wine, black pepper and cayenne pepper and simmer on high for about 5 to 7 minutes until sauce begins to thicken and is slightly reduced.
  • Add clams to sauce and cover, shaking the pan periodically. 
  • Check on the clams after they have been cooking for 5 minutes. Pluck out any clams that have opened and place them into a large bowl. Continuing rescuing the clams from the pot as they open. It can take up to 15 minutes or so.
  • While clams are cooking, cook pasta just shy of al dente.
  • Drain pasta and add it to pan with the sauce. Gently combine pasta with sauce to coat. Either put clams back in pot, garnish with herbs and serve as is, or put pasta on a nice serving platter and top with clams and herbs. 


Check out this article from Bon Appetit on how to prepare lardons.
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