My SO and I found this recipe in an issue of Fine Cooking a few years ago, and since then it's been one of our most frequently-made recipes. The sauce is not as thick as your typical cream sauce (e.g., fettuccine alfredo), and is also quite flavorful thanks to the combination of clams, garlic, herbs, and cheese.
This recipe is quick and easy; my SO and I can make this dish in less than 25 minutes. The slowest step is cooking the pasta, and even that can be done in parallel with making the sauce. Since I made this last week after a long day at work, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 6.5oz cans chopped clams (drained, reserve the liquid for the juice below)
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed with a garlic press
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2/3 cup clam juice (reserved from the cans above)
1/2 to 2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 pound dry pasta (we often use fusili)
0. Cook the pasta in salted water until it is al dente. When cooked, drain the pasta, but do not rinse with water. Work on the sauce (steps 1-6) while the pasta is cooking, though try to schedule your cooking so the pasta is done somewhat before it needs to be added to the sauce (in step 8).
1. In a large frying pan melt the butter over medium-high heat.
2. Add the clams and fry for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.
3. Add the garlic and fry for a minute longer, stirring frequently.
4. Add the oregano and red pepper flakes, stir for a few seconds, and then add the clam juice.
5. Cook until the clam juice is reduced in volume by approximately 50% (a few minutes).
6. Add the cream, and cook (simmering) until the sauce is a good consistency to coat the pasta (a moderately-thick sauce), stirring occasionally. It usually takes 2-4 minutes for the sauce to thicken to the right consistency; check the thickness of the sauce by stirring regularly with a spoon. When ready, the sauce should be a good deal thicker than it was just after you added the cream.
7. Once the sauce is thickened, mix in the parsley and cheese.
8. Add the drained pasta, mix well, and serve with grated cheese.
This recipe makes enough for a hearty dinner for the two of us, with very little left over. The original article says that the pasta doesn't reheat well; I've found that it reheats just fine in the microwave, as long as I mix it frequently as I reheat it, and add a little bit of freshly grated cheese once it's hot.
The flavor of the sauce is much more intense if you use fresh parsley, so don't use dried parsley unless you absolutely have to. Parsley is pretty easy to grow; I have a parsley plant in my backyard that I use primarily to make this dish.
The original article encourages flexibility with the sauce's ingredients, and includes five other recipes for similarly flavorful cream sauces.
Weinstein, B., and M. Scarbrough. 2002. "How to Make a Light Creamy Pasta Sauce." Fine Cooking 50: 45-49.