Dear Jewels – As there was no ‘R’ in the month our fishmonger had no clams but he suggested cockles instead. The cockles were in brine so he suggested soaking them. I then followed my own recipe. The sauce and pasta were delicious but the cockles had grit still inside them which we found off putting. Jewels, do you know a good way of getting all the grit out of cockles?
I had never even heard of cockles until I lived in England, so for those of you who have never heard of them, cockles are bivalve mussels that may be naturally harvested, and must be dredged from the bottom of the sea, or cultivated. Their quality may vary with the seasons, with the late fall or winter being peak season for fresh cockles, so they are commonly cooked and brined for safe keeping. They are also often smoked, and you can find jellied or canned in tomato sauce in addition to the bottled ones.
My friends used to eat them straight from the jar, but I fear it is an acquired taste, and I have to admit to not being a huge fan. Here is a video on how to clean cockles, since no one likes a mouthful of grit! Although, I never tried them prepared with pasta in a lovely sauce, so I may have to try them again now that you have brought this up. I do love a good Vongole, so perhaps I will enjoy them more as you describe. I’ve also seen recipes for using them in a samba, with hominy, and even in stir-fries.