Relaxing dinner for two

Leah Eskin
Chicago Tribune (TNS)

The word-worker, on vacation, tries to avoid her colleagues. Though she shelters in concert hall, museum and woods, words sneak in.

Sighing, she picks up a book. Not the breezy novel, brief story or brazen catalog. She opens “The Sympathizer” — dark, devastating and dense with words, familiar and not-so-much.

She admires the way the protagonist, new to English, conquers, annexes and dominates the language. Adamantine? Shambolic? Crapulent? (Unbreakable, chaotic, drunk.)

She closes the novel — and vacation — doubtful she’ll retain all her new acquaintances. One will stick: snick. Like slit and nick, it’s a small cut. Surely it will make a dependable co-worker.

She dines at Roister (boisterous) and packs her bags, eager to get back to work.

Clams and Pasta

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 5 minutes

Makes: 2 servings

20 fresh clams in their shells (any mix of little neck, Manila, razor and surf)

1 cup dry white wine

1 shallot, halved, and 1 shallot, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, halved, and 1 clove garlic, finely chopped

6 ounces dried tubular pasta

1 tablespoon butter, plus 1 tablespoon, optional

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 red bell peppers, sliced into matchsticks

1 hot red pepper, finely chopped, optional

1 tablespoon capers, drained, rinsed, patted dry

1 teaspoon sugar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup mixed chopped chives, parsley and mint

1 lime, quartered

Soak clams in cold water for 15 minutes to loosen any grit. Slide into a strainer and rinse well under cold water. Scrub clams, discarding any with cracked shells. Dry clams with a kitchen towel.

Settle clams in a large saucepan. Pour in the wine. Drop in the halved shallot and the halved garlic. Cover. Bring to a boil and let steam until clams open, 5-7 minutes.

Set a sieve over a large bowl. Line the sieve with cheese cloth. Pour in clams and their cooking liquid. Discard any unopened clams.

Use a small spoon to scrape clams from their shells. Avoid snicks. Reserve naked clams and their cooking liquid separately. (Discard shells and the cheesecloth.)

Cook pasta in salted water until 1 minute underdone. Drain.

Set a wide skillet over medium-high heat; add 1 tablespoon butter and the oil. When butter has melted, tumble in peppers, sliced shallots and chopped garlic. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in capers, sugar, pasta and about 1/2 cup of the clam-cooking liquid. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add clams.

Cook until everything is hot and glossy, adding more clam-cooking liquid and/or more butter, if needed. Season with salt and pepper.

Scoop pasta into two shallow bowls. Dust pasta with herbs. Spritz with lime. Enjoy.

Provenance: Inspired by Roister restaurant, Chicago.