As a shellfish lover who had spent summers on Cape Cod, I knew that there were many different types of hard and soft shell clams, often with regional names. Quahaugs, littlenecks, cherrystones, nanny nose, gaggers – these were all familiar. But the only place I’d seen “rats” was on the sign on Route 102 between Trenton and Somesville on Mount Desert Island. I had always wanted to send a picture of that sign to Jay Leno.
One day in August we had an urge for clams. With a notion to make linguine con le vongole, we headed up the road marked by the sign, with the flag waving us on. Every hundred feet there was another sign beckoning us along this country road until we arrived at our destination 7/10-mile into the woods.
There, in what appeared to be a converted garage, were clams for sale. The woman had cherrystones, which are slightly larger than the littlenecks usually used in clam sauces, but we opted for steamers so that Fred could have a few as an appetizer.
We worked from a recipe of Tyler Florence, adapting it as we went. While the pasta was boiling, we sauteed garlic and a little cayenne (I was out of red pepper flakes) in olive oil, then added some white wine and lemon, into which we threw the clams to steam until they all opened up. We tossed the pasta into the clam mixture, added a little butter, and sprinkled on some fresh herbs.
Scott Worcestor of Sawyer’s Specialties in Southwest Harbor, whose selection from artisanal producers gets rave reviews from Food and Wine, suggested we use a Portugese vinho verde for the recipe. It was perfect – light, fresh, and inexpensive.
But the hero of the dish were the clams, dug earlier that day by Richard Alan Taylor, otherwise known as “Rats.”