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We eat a lot of pasta in our house. Luckily, it's so versatile that the options are truly endless. With all the fresh and dried varieties available in stores these days, you could probably combine a different type of pasta with a different sauce every day for years and never get bored.
But while I cook pasta quite frequently, it's rare that I get to incorporate my favorite ingredients: fresh, locally caught seafood. The only exception is this spaghetti dish, topped with fresh clams and mussels—even in landlocked Umbria, it's usually possible to find both bivalves at the market.
Many folks get nervous about buying fresh clams and mussels, since they have a reputation for requiring a lot cleaning before use. It's true that they need a little extra care, but once you learn the basics of choosing, storing, and preparing them, the process becomes significantly less intimidating.
Like all fresh seafood, mussels and clams should smell of the ocean—like salt and seaweed, but not at all fishy. The shells should be tightly closed, with no chips or cracks. If you spot one that's partly opened, give it a tap; if it doesn't close immediately, it should be discarded. Similarly, any clams or mussels that remain tightly sealed after the recommended cooking or steaming period should never be forced open and eaten.
Once you get your clams and mussels home, immediately unwrap them and store them in a dry bowl in the refrigerator until needed. Though they can keep in the fridge for up to two days, you should generally cook shellfish the same day that you buy it.
When preparing your clams and mussels for this recipe, remove any dirt, sand, or seaweed clinging to the shells by scrubbing them with a firm brush under cool running water. Then, about 20 minutes before cooking, soak them in fresh, cool water with two tablespoons of cornmeal. This will help purge any sand remaining within. Finally, if your mussels still have seaweed, also called a beard, use a towel to gently pull it off the shell just before cooking.
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