Photo: boblin (E+/Getty Images)

Christmas, for better or for worse, is a time meant to be shared with family. But we’re all grown-ups here and understand that there are events or individuals toxic enough to poison the concept of family, and that they can make the holidays no longer feel so “magical.” I understand this better than some, having come from a family whose structure and bonds had been eroding for years and, since my mom’s passing over a decade ago, have fallen into abject shambles. As a result, I have spent a fair number of holiday seasons feeling neither holly or jolly, sighing in resignation at the Yuletide sights and sounds. While it’s natural to feel a little hollow if you’re on your own this time of year, hopefully, this simple recipe will fill your stomach, if not heart, with joy.

My Christmases weren’t always quite so blue. As a kid, I remember my eager anticipation for Christmas Eve. The fuzzy warmth from the big incandescent Christmas tree lights reflecting on wrapped presents beneath it, a CD of holiday tunes crooned by Andy Williams playing on the speakers, stockings hung from the mantel, my parents parking their caustic animus for at least one night. Christmas Eve was always something to look forward to in our family. Tying the evening together far more than a bow ever could was, naturally, dinner: in this case, a heaping bowl of clam linguine. It was never an outlandish or fancy meal, but it was fancy enough for the Midwest in the 1990s. Forced to don an itchy sweater from a department store, check. Surprised at how uncomfortable the upholstered dining room chairs were, check. Not quite grasping the distinction between normal plates and dishes and the china we used for Christmas Eve dinner and actual silver-silverware, double-check. Shouting and crying? Hey, it’s the holidays!

In any case, memory’s a funny thing and for me, and rather than dwell on the worst of the ghosts of Christmases past, I annually fixate on clam linguine. Sort of like a condensed Feast of the Seven Fishes. This obsession starts as a tickle in my brain around the middle of November. Walking down an errant grocery aisle I’ll notice a can of clam sauce and think to myself (possibly with “Silver Bells” also playing in my mind), “Soon it’ll be time once again.” This dish evokes that much feeling for me. The rich, buttery, and garlicky sauce, sopped up with store-brand garlic bread, and the carbs of all that glorious linguine topped with Kraft grated parmesan instantly sends me back to frosty Christmas Eves in Toledo.

Traditions are traditions, and while some folks serve ham or goose or beef Wellington for Christmas, my mom was dead-set on serving clam linguine on Christmas Eve. Whipping this simple buttery, garlicky, wine-y number up is something I look forward to every year that takes me back to the best Christmas memories. Sharing it with anyone who is around and wants to feel a little less lonely around this time of year? That’s the least I can do.


Christmas Eve Clam Linguine

  • 1 lb. dried linguine
  • 2 medium white onions, very thinly sliced
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 8-oz. cans clams (with juice reserved)
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. rosemary, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. basil, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. white wine (lemon juice works in a pinch)
  • 1 cup parsley, chopped
  • Shaker parmesan (or the fancy stuff)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Get that water boiling, add a dash of salt. Boil the pasta.

Open the cans of clams and drain the juice into a measuring cup. Keep the clams separate.

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In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter until the butter is melted and beginning to blend. Add the onions, garlic, rosemary, basil, and red pepper flakes and sauté until the onions are sweating and translucent. Add the clam juice, stirring to combine everything. Stir in the white wine.

Add the clams and heat through. They’re pre-cooked in the can, so you’re just heating them up a bit. You don’t want to overcook them, but it’s also tough to do that—give them a few minutes.

Once the pasta’s ready, plate it and then spoon that delicious sauce all over. Add salt, cracked black pepper, parmesan, and chopped parsley to taste.

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