July 5, 2013
This version of linguine with clams takes pasta to the sublime

clams.JPGPasta comes in a delightful array of shapes, sizes and names, from the familiar (rigatoni, lasagna) to the obscure (maltagliati, sorprese lisce).

Linguine means "little tongues" in English, and is a go-to in Genoa and the Liguria region of coastal Italy, food experts tell us. When teamed with clams and white sauce to make "linguine alle vongole," the flat spaghetti-looking pasta becomes sublime.

We found a marvelous version at Piatti Ristorante in Sacramento, where a starter bowl is $13, the entree is $18.

Steaming-hot al dente linguine is covered in a silken, complex sauce and topped with plump, briny clams in the shell. Add some grated cheese. Flavors and textures explode with each forkful, as a touch of heat lingers in the background. How good was it? My lunch pal went with a Margherita pizza, and we ended up dipping the leftover pizza crust into the leftover clam sauce.

We asked executive chef Lance Carlini to disassemble the dish:

The sauce: The fragrant creation is a luscious mix of Parmesan broth, white wine, preserved Meyer lemon, lemon juice, garlic, tomato, herbs, butter and white wine, finished with olive oil-cured Calabrian chile peppers, he explained.

The house-made Parmesan broth is based on the rinds from the 75 pounds of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese the restaurant uses each week. Typically, the rinds are cooked in water with olive oil, caramelized onion, garlic, aromatic herbs and other ingredients.

The clams: "We use littleneck clams because they stand up to the heat a little better than Manila clams, and they're bigger," Carlini said.

The pasta: "It's made in-house. The key is the organic eggs we use, from Vega Farms near Davis. We get them less than 24 hours after they're laid. The yolks are super-orange."

This is one of the better pasta dishes we've found in our excursions. Get it at Piatti in the Pavilions center, just off Fair Oaks Boulevard and just east of Howe Avenue; (916) 649-8885,

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