Today’s Spicy Caesar Bucatini is, unsurprisingly, inspired by the caesar. The cocktail, not the salad. I took the tell-tale flavors of the Clamato-based drink and turned them into dinner. Imagine clams steamed in a blistered cherry tomato, horseradish, and vodka sauce tossed with chewy bucatini pasta. Oh! And as the name suggests, there’s a good amount of heat in this dish as well. While it may seem strange to use a cocktail as inspo for pasta, in this instance it works. And by “works” I mean, this dish is so delicious that I don’t care if it’s wrong. So let’s dive right in!
I’ve always been more of a savory person. That’s why you don’t see many desserts on this website. That and I am a far better cook than I am a baker. So generally, it’s easier for me to bang out a slew of dinner options than a cake that meets my standards. We’re talking rounds of recipe testing and there is only so much cake one sweet-averse household can take.
But my lack of sweet tooth extends past food, I feel the same way about cocktails. My favorite cocktails tend to lean heavily in the savory direction. My go-to cocktail is a dry vodka martini with olives, and yes I know, a “real” martini is made with gin. But I like what I like. You can explain the many ways my choice is gauche, but it won’t change how much I adore vodka. I’ve been drinking them for 10 years, I am a lost cause.
On top of my questionable martini choice, I love a michelada, and of course, the caesar, which is why we’re all here today. I love how these drinks can all serve as an appetizer. In fact, I used a caesar as a meal replacement the night I met my now partner. I was hopelessly late for dinner with him and our mutual friends, so his first interaction with me included watching me negotiate my way through a lobster tail caesar in record time. And in case you were curious, there is no graceful way to do that.
So before we tackle the bucatini version, let’s cover what constitutes a caesar. A caesar is sort of like a bloody Mary with spice and brine. What differentiates the caesar from a bloody Mary is the inclusion of clam broth. The drink was invented in 1969 by Walter Chell, the restaurant manager at the Calgary Inn in, well, Calgary. He said a plate of spaghetti alle vongole he had in Venice inspired the drink. And he named it “The Caesar” as a nod to his own Italian heritage. Its more formal name is Bloody Caesar, an attempt to separate it from its more popular cousin – the bloody Mary.
A Caesar is a combination of Clamato juice, vodka, hot sauce (typically Tabasco), and Worcestershire sauce. It typically has a celery salt rim and is garnished with a stalk of celery and a wedge of lemon. There are, of course, numerous variations. My lobster tail rendition probably already made you aware of that. But here are my non-negotiable ingredients that were not included in the original recipe. Number one is horseradish. I was shocked to find it wasn’t an original ingredient. I love horseradish in my caesars and I really like to give ‘er. There should be horseradish sludge at the bottom of your glass when you’re done. Trust me. And the next is Montreal steak spice. This is just a nice flourish that I’ve picked up over the years. Nothing traditional about it but it does lean into the Canadiana of it all.
So how does a caesar become today’s Spicy Caesar Bucatini? Quite easily actually. This whole meal comes together in 30 minutes flat. Start things off by sauteeing shallots and garlic in a skillet with a good amount of shimmering olive oil. To that add cherry tomatoes and give them the opportunity to blister. Just shake the pan every once and a while but for the most part, leave the tomatoes to do their thing. Once the tomatoes start to fall apart, stir in the horseradish and Worcestershire sauce and lay in the clams. Add the vodka to the pan and immediately cover. Let the clams steam for 5-7 minutes or until they open. Then toss in the pasta, mix everything together, and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. Couldn’t be simpler.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Spicy Caesar Bucatini and, quite frankly, the bloody caesar itself. This is such an effortless dish and such a great recipe to trot out during the summer months. Simple to make and easy to love with minimal stove-time. If those aren’t the makings of a successful summer recipe, I don’t know what is.
Spicy Caesar Bucatini with Fresh Basil
- 1 Large, deep skillet
- 1 Large pot
- 1½ lbs little neck clams
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 shallots halved and thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste heaping
- 255g (9oz) cherry tomatoes
- 454g (1 lb) uncooked bucatini
- 1 tbsp horseradish heaping
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- ½ cup vodka
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- ½ lemon juiced
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves tightly packed
- Place the clams in a bowl and cover them with cold water. Add a tablespoon of salt and give them a quick swish. Set them aside to soak for 1 hour. ** Once the hour has passed, drain the clams and set them aside.1½ lbs little neck clams
- Heat the olive oil in a large deep skillet until shimmering. Add the shallots along with a generous pinch of salt. Saute until translucent. Stir in the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute more.2 tbsp olive oil, 3 shallots, 6 cloves garlic
- Stir the crushed red pepper flakes and tomato paste into the shallots. Saute for a minute more.1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, 1 tbsp tomato paste
- Add the cherry tomatoes to the skillet and add a pinch of salt. Cook the tomatoes over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally until the tomatoes start to fall apart and become jammy. About 10 minutes.255g (9oz) cherry tomatoes
- While the tomatoes are cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Liberally salt the water and add the bucatini. Cook according to the package's direction. Reserve a 1/3 of a cup of pasta water, drain the pasta, and set both aside.454g (1 lb) uncooked bucatini
- Stir the horseradish and Worcestershire sauce into the tomatoes and lay the clams on top of the mixture in an even layer. Increase the heat and bring the sauce to a spirited simmer. Pour in the vodka and immediately cover the pan. Let the clams steam for 5-7 minutes or until the clams open. Discard any clams that don't.1 tbsp horseradish, 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, ½ cup vodka
- Turn the heat down to low and place the bucatini in the skillet. Add the butter and toss to coat. If the pan seems dry, add a little of the pasta water. If it doesn't refrain from using the pasta water.*** Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice. Give the pasta a toss and taste. Season with salt accordingly.2 tbsp unsalted butter, ½ lemon
- Transfer the pasta to plates and garnish with additional crushed red pepper flakes and fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately.¼ cup fresh basil leaves