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Originally published September 21, 2011 at 1:07 PM | Page modified September 21, 2011 at 1:39 PM

Pasta swims with the clams

The New York Times A bowl of garlicky clams, steamed in their own juices, with white wine, good oil and plenty of fresh herbs, begs for...

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The New York Times

A bowl of garlicky clams, steamed in their own juices, with white wine, good oil and plenty of fresh herbs, begs for something to sop up the sauce.

A crusty loaf will do. But when something a little more refined is in order, linguine can be even better, especially if you let the pasta finish cooking in the clams' heady liquid.

Finishing pasta in a pan of sauce is a classic Italian technique. The idea is that you boil the pasta in a pot of water until just before it becomes al dente. Then you drain it and let it cook through in a pan of simmering sauce.

It does require more work than dumping it in a bowl and tossing it, but it is worth it.

For one, the starch from the pasta thickens the sauce, helping it cling to the noodles. It also gives the pasta a chance to take on the flavors of the sauce, making the whole dish more integrated.

The technique works particularly well with thinner, brothier sauces like this elixir of savory clam juice, garlic and wine. The clam sauce-infused pasta is like a magic seafood extender, spreading that fragrant ocean flavor all around the bowl, not just when you bite into a clam.

You can use the technique with any standard pasta with a white clam sauce recipe. But in the spirit of get-them-while-the-getting's-good, I added a mix of brightly hued cherry tomatoes to the last batch I made.

To concentrate their essence, I roasted the tomatoes with some smashed garlic cloves. The garlic became nuggets of soft candy while the tomatoes grew both sweeter and more tart.

I then threw a good measure of chopped raw garlic into the pot. The flavors of chopped, sauteed garlic and caramelized, roasted garlic are completely different, and I wanted them both: one pungent, biting and zippy, the other soft, mellow and creamy.

The pasta happily absorbed all the liquid, becoming complex, intense and very clammy, a perfect sop without the sopping.

Linguine with Littlenecks, Roasted Tomatoes and Caramelized Garlic

Time: 45 minutes

14 garlic cloves

2 pints cherry tomatoes, a mix of colors is nice

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Salt

1 pound dry linguine

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed

1/4 cup torn mint leaves.1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Smash and peel 8 garlic cloves; peel and finely chop the remaining 6. Toss the smashed garlic with the tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of oil, fine sea salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Spread the tomatoes out in a layer in one or two baking pans (make sure they aren't too crowded, so they don't steam) and roast tomatoes, tossing occasionally, until bursting, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. In a large pot of heavily salted boiling water, cook the pasta until it is 2 minutes from being done to taste. Drain.

3. Return the pasta pot to medium-high heat. Warm 4 tablespoons oil in the pot. Add the chopped garlic and red pepper flakes; cook for 30 seconds. Add the wine and let simmer 2 minutes. Stir in the roasted tomatoes and garlic. Add the clams. Cover the pot and cook until the clams open, 5 to 10 minutes. Use tongs to transfer open clams to a bowl; discard any that do not open.

4. Add the pasta and 3/4 teaspoon black pepper to the sauce in the pot. Cook, tossing, until pasta is just cooked through. Return the clams to the pot and toss with the pasta. Divide mixture among serving bowls. Garnish with mint and drizzle with more oil.

Yield: 6 servings.

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