Linguine with cockles and asparagus

My experience with cockles to date comprises chronologically of collecting their shells on Nairn beach as a small child; peering at jars of cooked cockles and wondering who on earth bought and ate anything so closely resembling a bogey; trying some as part of an awesome chilled seafood platter in Geneva and stil not being sure why you’d bother eating them; ordering some last week as part of my Farm Direct box.
I’m still not convinced of their joys cold, but cooked like mussels?  Oh my.  Why on earth aren’t cockles lauded and plated with the care and passion of mussels, clams and prawns and served up as one of Britain’s great ingredients?  I think a one-woman cockle campaign may start here.  My only slight concern is that this isn’t the right time of year to eat them, so I’ll ask about that before I buy more. In season, they’re gathered sustainably and aren’t at risk of being made extinct so can be eaten with a clear conscience.
Having never eaten cockles hot, I wasn’t too sure what I was going to do once I had the cockles in hand, but seeing their tightly closed shells and size, some kind of spaghetti vongole dish seemed a good bet.  But the cream I bought looked so good – a deep yellow and gorgeously thick – that tomatoes went out and cream came in to make a more mariniere-esque dish.  I’ll go tomatoey next time.  And oh, will there ever be a next time. 
A word on prep: cockles can hide very small bits of grit in the ridges of their shells, so as well as giving them a good wash under running water, it’s worth the faff of draining the cooked cockles to catch any stray bits in a fine sieve.  But with no debearding I think these beat mussels into a cock(l)ed hat.

Linguine with cockles and asparagus
Serves 2
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

1 onion, diced
500g cockles, rinsed well under running cold water
100ml white wine
150g linguine or other long pasta
250g asparagus, chopped into 3cm lengths
2 tbsp double cream

1. Start the onion frying in a slug of olive or rapeseed oil over a low heat.

2. While the onion is frying, add the cockles to a saucepan along with the wine and with the lid on, cook over a medium-high heat for 5 minutes until all the cockles have opened.  If any are closed, give it another minute or two of cooking time, but then fish them out and throw those ones away.

3. Use a fine sieve placed over a bowl to drain the cockles and catch any stray bits of grit. Don’t throw the liquid away though:  this is the base for your sauce.  Remove the cockle meat from about two thirds of the shells and place both the naked and be-shelled cockles to one side for now.

4. Rinse out the cockle pan and use to cook your pasta.  If you set a timer for the pasta countdown now, it will make it easier to tell when to add the asparagus. If not, devise a way of knowing when the pasta has three minutes of cooking time left.

5. Add the cockle cooking liquid to the fried onions along with the cream, and gently cook to reduce and thicken the sauce a little while your pasta finishes cooking.  

6. With three minutes to go, add the asparagus to the pasta and raise the heat briefly to bring it back to the boil. When the pasta and asparagus are ready, drain, keeping a little pasta water in the pan, and toss the asparagus, pasta and pasta water with the sauce.  Add the cockles and gently mix to distribute the cockles and serve.

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