Tellines are small clams. Contrary to Provence local lore they are not unique to the stretch of beach between Arles and Montpellier. They’re found in a number of places around the Atlantic coast in Brittany and around the Mediterranean, notably on the Italian coast, in the province of Lazio. But they are well-known in the cuisine of the Camargue. They can be cooked in the same way as any other clam or other mollusc. They are washed, heated either in oil or white wine until they open and then eaten either on their own with persillade ( parsley, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt) or in a pasta dressing or added to something like paella.
Smith’s recipe for cooking tellines is slightly influenced by two factors. He doesn’t like eating with this fingers and he hates parsley.
Like all fish, it is entirely too easy to overcook tellines and fish glue is one of the easiest glues to make. Most restaurants in Smith’s experience make glue not fish. Either that or they err on the sushi side and serve something that is under-cooked, translucent and foul. His recipe involves taking the tellines from their shells for a pasta sauce but the tricky bit is not cooking them completely in the process because that should happen a few seconds before the dish is served. Over-cooked shellfish goes rubbery alarmingly quickly.
After you have bought them just take a few moments to look at them They are truly beautiful little things; jewel-like and in an extraordinary varieties of patterns, colours and textures.
This is a two stage recipe. 1-3 (below) can be done in advance.
· 250g tellines per person
· Dry white wine
1. Put the tellines in a large saucepan with a lid. Put the top on and, holding the top firmly, give the whole thing a violent shake. Tip them into a sieve. A few that were open but asleep will have woken up and closed. Those that remain open are probably dead and should be discarded.
2. Heat a very small amount of water (1/2 inch 1cm) in a wide pan until it is boiling fiercely, then throw the tellines in. Do not put salt in this water. If the tellines have come recently from the sea they will be quite salty enough. If they haven’t come recently from the sea, you should not have bought them in the first place. Put the lid on and give the whole thing a shake for amount fifteen seconds or so. Take it off the stove and watch the shells opening, stirring all the time. Being very small they open pretty quickly. Within a few seconds decant the liquid (that should be a little cloudy) into a small container. Shake the pan a little while you are doing this as some of the now-fishy water will remain in the shells unless you do. Dump the tellines into the cold water in the sink but keep the hot water back as the basis for the sauce. Stages 1 & 2 should take no longer than 40 seconds.
3. Discard the tellines that have remained closed and take the meat from the dead but not completely cooked clams out of their shells and put them in a bowl for later. They will be added almost at the last minute.
4. When you wish to eat:
Heat the telline stock to a simmer and reduce until it is about half its original volume. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a few moments (to stop curdling) and add some little cream and some white wine. Bring the mixture back up to a simmer and reduce further. You are not aiming for a lot of sauce; just enough to coat the spaghetti. Pasta sauce is flavour not substance - a lesson that most Italian restaurants seem to have forgotten.
When you have got the sauce to whatever consistency you want, (white wine will thin, cream and a little more simmering with thicken) cook the spaghetti and a minute or so before you are ready to drain it, throw the tellines into the sauce and stir them in and let them absord the heat for about a minute. Finish draining the pasta and put it onto the sauce. Mix and put into a heated bowl, take to the table and let everyone help themselves.
Don’t let anyone put lemon juice, parsley or, God forbid, parmesan cheese on the dish. If you do the whole thing will just taste of lemon, parsley or parmesan cheese. Some freshly-ground pepper will often bring the taste out a little. With luck the whole thing will just taste of tellines which is, after all, the object of the exercise.