My Family Recipe

The Lemony, Garlicky Pasta That Helped Me Outsmart My 2-Year-Old

Linguine alle vongole is still a family favorite, all these years later.

April 23, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

Good food is worth a thousand words—sometimes more. In My Family Recipe, a writer shares the story of a single dish that’s meaningful to them and their loved ones.

"I want vongole!"

My 18-year-old daughter, Lily, came home from a college semester in Paris recently, and while I couldn’t compete with the croissants, my trump card was linguine alle vongole. Lily has always been an adventurous eater (inhaling an oyster at 15 months, she likes to brag), and when she demanded clams her first week back in the United States, it made me realize that this dish has become sort of a homecoming meal for us as a family since she and her brother were small.

When Lily was about 2 years old, my husband and I went to Hawaii for a few days. My parents stayed with Lily, the clam lover, and her brother Sam Henry, who was then 3 years old. I remember sitting in my seat before taking off, anxious about leaving the kids behind and bursting into tears before my seat belt was even latched. (Really, going to Hawaii?)

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Top Comment:
“Love this story, Amanda. So impressed by how strong Lily's character was at age 2! Will serve her well. ”
— Amanda H.

But off we went, my husband seemingly oblivious to the treasonous act we’d just committed, already looking forward to quiet, sun-soaked days of tennis and no one wailing from down the hall for a last snuggle or story.

The trip is a blur, but what I do remember was my return to Los Angeles and being frozen out by my newly willful, oddly grown-up daughter. She'd look away when I went to her and was seemingly uninterested in the Mango Tango stories I told while lying on the floor of their darkened bedroom. I'd invent tales that had elements of whatever was going on in our lives, tweaked slightly just to hear them roar with laughter when Mango or his mother, Janelle, did something subversive.

Sam Henry didn’t seem to be harboring any resentment, but Lily was formidable. After a few days of penance, presenting Lily with chicken cut just so, perfect bowls of strawberries, and endless cups of milk, I was stumped until I looked through my recipe box, searching for dinner inspiration. A folded recipe from Gourmet fell out and there was the answer.

Linguine alle vongole has nothing to do with my own childhood, which was a mix of things (though mostly Southern food), which makes it feel even more special to my own family’s story.

I bought all of the ingredients but pretended like it wasn’t a big deal, prepping the garlic and rinsing the clams. Lily toddled over to me, "Lily help?"

It almost wasn’t fair, given this girl’s love of clams.

"Oh, of course," I said. "Will you pull the parsley from the stem, like this?"

She clambered up a special stool so she could stand at counter level and somewhat successfully pulled parsley off the stem. Her brother was right behind, delighted to have graduated to this very adult task. He begged to use the knife, of course, so I let him lay his palm on top of mine while I gently chopped.

Peace in the valley.

All of that took about five minutes until they both hopped down and began running in circles around the house.

That was years ago, but the dish remains an anchor, a mark in the sand that we are all together again and sitting at the table. Linguine alle vongole has nothing to do with my own childhood, which was a mix of things (though mostly Southern food), which makes it feel even more special to my own family’s story.

Once the ingredients are prepped, the meal comes together very quickly. While the pasta cooks, the clams, garlic, parsley, white wine, and lemon juice simmer, doing their job effortlessly in a separate pan. Hopefully you'll feel like a hero as you toss the pasta with the clams (or at least I did that night, now many years ago). Most of the time, all of the clams open and the result is very satisfying, and a wonderful surprise if you’ve got an audience of small children.

I remember feeling especially smug that night, watching my kids eagerly devour their feast. That was also likely the last time I was able to outfox my beautiful, smart, and still willful daughter, but I’m delighted that food happiness helped to restore goodwill and remind her that I loved her.

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Amanda Moose

Written by: Amanda Moose

Amanda Moose was Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Culinary Experience, in partnership with The Julia Child Foundation, and was previously Special Assistant to President Obama from 2012 to 2017.


Zedirk May 30, 2019
I am struggling a bit serving my kid 1/2 cup of white wine with her pasta, how did you deal with that?
John K. May 23, 2019
I've made this recipe using mussels and it worked just as well--substituting Limoncello for the wine in an interesting variation--
Nancy S. April 25, 2019
I find it hard to believe any young child likes clams. Good for him/her.
Vivienne May 21, 2019
Good for her. I can identify. My dad had me loving raw oysters by the age of two and I've never looked back. Linguine con vongole is one of my favorite foods, too.
Amanda H. April 24, 2019
Love this story, Amanda. So impressed by how strong Lily's character was at age 2! Will serve her well.
Author Comment
Amanda M. April 24, 2019
Thanks, Amanda. Now 19, she's still a pistol...
Cynthia April 23, 2019
Beautiful story Amanda. I love it when food triggers a special memory.