I didn't get it.
Linguine or spaghetti or maca-fuckin'-roni 'vongole'. Clams.
I've been aware of this dish for a long time. I've worked in restaurants where I've watched it go out to table after table. I've seen it on menus galore. And I never quite understood the appeal.
I spent the past few days on Salt Spring Island. For those readers who aren't local to British Columbia, Salt Spring is one of the Gulf Islands in and around and between the lower mainland, or Vancouver, and Vancouver Island. Tiny islands. Charming islands. Feel-good islands.
A friend of mine purchased property on Salt Spring a few years back. This was my first opportunity to visit.
It's a stunning property. We arrived and walked down the winding stairs, passing two bistro-like landings with tables and chairs, perched on the steep, rocky face that stands below the residence and stares over the water. We got down the stairs to the water and sat down. Two docks over, the neighbours were returning from a boat trip. As they made their way down their dock towards the stairs that climb the cliff face to their house, they yelled out to us:
"COME BY IN AN HOUR IF YOU WANT SOME FRESH CLAMS!!!"
"OK!" We replied.
At this moment, I saw it all starting to unfold. I realized that my opportunity to understand what 'vongole' was all about was there for the consensual (obviously) groping.
As my host & I made our way back up the stairs, I received the vegetation tour. Included in this vegetation tour was a small chili plant in a pot. There was exactly one perfectly ripe, red chili of I have no idea what variety. The future was becoming the present. The universe was conspiring.
Herbs were galore. Notable in this here garden for the future of dinner would be the lemon-thyme. Oh, baby, says Bob Cole.
After a tipple in the nook, we made our way down the road to collect the offering of good-neighbourship from two doors down. Jane we did meet. And fresh clams in a bucket of water we did receive.
Now, I know nothing specific outside of my own foggy and intuitive memory of this mythical category of 'vongole', Jon Snow, but I know enough to understand that we would steam these shelled creatures in white wine and broth and fresh garlic.
We would prepare pasta.
We would drizzle olive oil. We may also slather butter. We would toss herbs into the final assemblage. And we would slice a small chili into perfect little tiny rings and include them on top of this conspiratorial and most-fortunate event that was falling into place ever-so-gracefully.
7 minutes for the pasta. 6 minutes for the clams.
All of the above. And a fresh crackling of sea salt and black pepper.
And at once, after laying my eyes on this creation and smelling the convergence of everything ever-so-fresh and simple, life made sense.
Vongole made sense.
Was there wine? Yes, yes, there was wine. That wine was white wine. And it was well-chilled and could have come from anywhere, though it just so happened to be Chardonnay coming from Burrowing Owl, in case you were wondering.
Could the wine choice have been more carefully curated? Indeed.
Did I give two hoots? Nay.
Because as they say: vongole.
And now, it's as if I have a single, droning, musical note in my head.
Where are you, Schumann? And can you help?
Vongole. Vongole. Vongole. Vongole. Vongole...