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Who’s Cooking: Bert Spitz of East Norwich

Bert Spitz shows off his pasta with white

Bert Spitz shows off his pasta with white clam sauce at his East Norwich home. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Bert Spitz owns a garment hanger company in New York City. He blogs about food at phoodographsandfinds.blogspot.com. He lives in East Norwich with his wife, Sandy.

How long have you been cooking?

It all started in 1955. When I lived in L.A. my parents would take us to the Piccadilly Restaurant where the captain used to let me prepare the Caesar salad tableside. That’s where my interest began. As I grew up, I worked in Italian restaurants where I picked up a lot of information and technique. I’m not a chef by training, but I love restaurant kitchens. One evening I went with my wife and a few people to a well-known restaurant in Glen Head called Pappagallo, owned by Mario Ghini. All of the good Italian restaurants in Nassau County in the ’70s and ’80s had chefs who were trained there. That night, Mario said, “Bert do you want to come in and cook dinner for your table?” He let me come into the kitchen and showed me how it was done. That was in the mid ’80s.

Tell us about your food blog?

I started blogging in 2010. I had tried out for Gordon Ramsay’s show “Master Chef” with my flank steak ragu recipe and made it through the first round. So I decided to share my recipes and my experiences with food on the blog.

Do you ever cook professionally?

It’s not so much a professional thing as a hobby. Ninety percent of my life is in the garment center. Cooking is on the weekend. If somebody likes my cooking, I’ll go to their house and make dinner. It satisfies my urge to work in a restaurant kitchen, without any of the trouble.

What are Sam’s Clams and where do you buy them?

When I was down in Florida in a fish market, I saw this bucket of Sam’s Clams and I read the whole label inside and out and it looked wonderful. I put it in a cooler, because I always travel with a cooler, and drove home. Then I made my clam sauce. From then on I’ve been getting them at Whole Foods. According to the package, Sam’s is a sustainable fishery. They don’t add salt, preservatives or chemicals. Using these clams produces a more tender, fresher and sweeter clam in the sauce than the steam and chop process and the results are brilliant. This also eliminates the need for bottled clam juice seen in other recipes.

What are the differences between pressed, chopped, and sliced garlic?

If I’m making this for my wife, I slice it thick so it is visible and can be picked out. If I’m making it for people who really love the pronounced flavor of garlic, then I’ll slice it thinner, chop it fine, or press it. If you want to maximize your garlic flavor, use a press.

PASTA WITH WHITE CLAM SAUCE

You’ll want to begin cooking the pasta so you can drain it just as the clams are done.

Kosher salt

8 ounces linguine fini or linguine

1⁄4cups extra-virgin olive oil

2 to 3 very large cloves garlic, pressed, chopped, or thinly sliced

1⁄2cup dry white wine like pinot grigio

6 to 8 cherry tomatoes, chopped

12 littleneck clams, thoroughly scrubbed

1 pound chopped clams, preferably Sam’s Clams

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Ground black or white pepper

A few pinches crushed red pepper

1⁄3to 1⁄2cup chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

1. In a large pot, bring 3 to 4 quarts of water to boil. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Cook the pasta just short of al dente.

2. In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cook until golden brown. Add the wine and tomatoes and stir.

3. Add whole clams to skillet, cover and cook until they start to open, 7 to 8 minutes, shaking pan often to shift and turn them.

4. As soon as the clams start to open, stir in chopped clams, butter, salt and peppers to taste, and parsley. Cover and cook until clams are fully open, 2 to 3 minutes longer.

5. Drain pasta and add to skillet. The pasta will absorb any abundance of liquid.

6. Toss gently for about 30 seconds and serve immediately on a platter. Makes 2 servings.

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