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EATING well

A healthy alternative to white pasta with clams

Barley with clam sauce is a healthy alternative to white pasta with clams.

Associated Press

Barley with clam sauce is a healthy alternative to white pasta with clams.

By Sara Moulton

Associated Press

Spaghetti with clams — or spaghetti alle vongole to the Italians — is one of my favorite dishes: simple, flavorful and satisfying.

That's because it's hard to lose with clams, which generate their own wonderful sauce as they are cooked. Just steam them with a little liquid. When the shells part, the clam liqueur streams out, absolutely succulent and ready to glorify whatever it is added to.

I went in search of an alternative to white-flour spaghetti — something equally satisfying, but more nutritious. My first thought was whole-wheat pasta. My second was barley, which is even more healthful. A terrific source of fiber, barley is a well-known substitute for rice. I was pretty sure it'd be a fine stand-in for spaghetti, too, not least for its nutty flavor.

The only trouble with barley (and it's true of many of my favorite whole grains, including wheat berries and brown rice) is that it can take over 40 minutes to cook. Who has that kind of time on a weeknight?

Well, problem solved. I long ago dispensed with worrying about a precise ratio of liquid to grain. Instead, I cook the barley the way I cook pasta — in an abundance of boiling, lightly salted water. This is much less stressful than measuring, and quicker, too. Also, I cook much more than I need for one meal, then pack up the extra for future meals, wrap it well, and freeze it. The next time I want barley as the base for a dish, it's really fast to make.

The fresh fennel and cherry tomatoes here take this recipe in a Mediterranean direction. If you can't find, or just don't like, fresh fennel (with its slightly licorice aroma), you can just leave it out or replace it with some celery or leeks. Cherry tomatoes are my go-to fresh tomatoes when the summer tomato season has passed. Then again, if you don't like the cherry tomatoes at your supermarket, use canned tomatoes instead.

I have added one of my favorite garnishes: sauteed bread crumbs. Sounds mundane, but they are anything but. After you make this the first time, you might find yourself wildly topping every dish with sauteed bread crumbs.

BARLEY WITH CLAM SAUCE

3 tablespoons dry bread crumbs, preferably Italian-style

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon

extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1 ½ cups medium chopped fresh fennel

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ cup dry white wine

1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes

3 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed well

3 cups cooked pearl barley

⅓ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the bread crumbs and 1 teaspoon of the oil. Cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion and fennel, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add the wine, tomatoes and clams, cover tightly and increase heat to high. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, checking now and again and transferring the clams to a bowl as they open. Discard any clams that don't open.

Add the barley to the clam liquid left in the saucepan and heat over medium, stirring, for 3 minutes. Return the clams to the pan and cook, stirring, until they are heated through. Ladle the mixture into 4 pasta or soup bowls and top each portion with a quarter of the sauteed bread crumbs and parsley.

Serves 4.

Nutritional information per serving: 400 calories (90 calories from fat, 23 percent of total calories), 10g fat (1.5g saturated, 0g trans fats), 45mg cholesterol, 50g carbohydrates, 7g fiber, 4g sugar, 22g protein, 240mg sodium.

A healthy alternative to white pasta with clams 10/30/13 [Last modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013 4:45pm]
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