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Linguine with Cockles, Vermouth, Bacon and Wild Garlic

"Wild horses, couldn't drag me away."

The Rolling Stones (1971)

With some degree of intention I have avoided posting a recipe for linguine alle vongole as it is probably the most popular clam dish amongst customers of the market stall, pasta dish or otherwise. It's one of those dishes where everyone's recipe is right and everyone else's is wrong.

It just happened upon me a couple of weeks ago to think of a recipe for cockles with pasta and with wild garlic season still underway (at the time!) I fancied something combining the two. A quick search on the internet demonstrated, as always, I was far from the first to think up a dish, but the recipe that caught my eye was one on the Waitrose website and featured bacon, a great friend of the mollusc. On further inspection I was rather enchanted to find that the recipe was originally written in 1999. I wonder whether Prince would have wanted it at his once-visionary party?

Using that recipe as a guide I did little more than to switch the spaghetti for linguine, as it tends to be my favourite for shellfish pasta dishes, and to incorporate the wild garlic, shredded long and thin, into the mix.

OK, the wild garlic horses may have bolted for this year, but for next year this is a tangle of salty, sweet, savoury and herby happiness to look forward to.

As with so many of the dishes I explore, I am always on the lookout for ways to getting much of the prep done ahead. In this case the cockles can be cooked a day in advance and kept in a sealed container in the fridge. The cooking liquor for the cockles can also be stored in the fridge in a separate container, but in both cases, these should be brought to room temperature when ready to cook. Be aware that, no matter how well you try to wash the cockles, there is likely to be a residue of grit which, conveniently, sinks to the bottom of the cooking liquor and can therefore be avoided.

With the saltiness of the cockles and the bacon, it is worth holding back on any additional salt unless or until it is clearly needed.

Linguine with Cockles, Vermouth, Bacon and Wild Garlic

Ingredients (Serves 2)

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 shallot (approx. 50g), coarsely chopped

100ml dry vermouth (or white wine)

900g cockles, washed thoroughly

150-200g dried linguine

3-4 slices dry-cured back bacon (approx. 100g), finely diced

Pinch or two of dried chilli flakes

1 tsp grated lemon zest

20 or so wild garlic leaves, stalks removed, flowers can be used for decorating

1 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley, plus a few sprigs for garnish

Lemon slices or wedges, to serve (optional)

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper


  1. Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a large saucepan (for which you have a lid) and sweat the chopped shallot for a couple of minutes. Pour in the vermouth (or wine), bring to the boil then tip in the cockles, cover the pan and cook the cockles for about 2-3 mins, or until they have just opened. Strain the cockles through a sieve set over a bowl to catch the cooking liquor. When cool enough to handle, discard the shallot and remove the meats from the majority of the shells, leaving a few intact for presentation.

  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the linguine and cook for 9 mins or according to the packet instructions. Meanwhile cut the wild garlic leaves lengthways into 1cm wide strips.

  3. Five minutes before the pasta is cooked, heat the remaining 5 tbsp of the olive oil in a sauté pan and fry the diced bacon over a medium-high heat. As soon as it crisps pour in 8-10 tbsp of the liquor reserved from the cooking of the cockles and add the dried chilli flakes. Allow the liquid to reduce then lower the heat and add the cooked cockles and lemon zest. Simmer gently for about 1 min by which time the pasta should be ready.

  4. Using tongs, transfer the cooked linguine to the sauté pan along with some of the pasta water. Combine the wild garlic strips into the pasta, taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly (salt is unlikely to be necessary). If more liquid is required just add a few spoonfuls of the pasta water, then serve in pasta bowls garnished with the parsley sprigs, the lemon slices or wedges if using, and decorate with the wild garlic flowers if to hand.


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