Spaghetti con Vongole
- Servings: 2 as a main course.
Spaghetti con vongole -- spaghetti with clams -- is a classic pasta dish that can only be made with acutely fresh clams that are still in their shells. While you can make this dish with almost any kind of clams, I prefer the small, sweet cherrystone or littleneck clams that can be bought in most fish markets year-round.
Because once out of their shells these clams are very small, I also prefer to make this dish with spaghettini, a slightly more delicate long strand pasta.
Cooking With Fresh Clams
- Cook the clams within one day of buying them. When you get them home, immediately take the clams out of their package and put them into a bowl and refrigerate until you're ready to use. Remember that the clams are still alive and need air so do not leave them in a sealed plastic bag (your fish monger may tell you this or may help by piercing the plastic storage bag with a knife to create air holes).
- The clams will contain some sand, which if you don't try to remove in advance, will end up in your pasta dish. So about 45 minutes before you're ready to cook the clams, remove them from the refrigerator and place them in a bowl of cool-to-cold water. Let them sit for in the cool water, undisturbed, for 10-minute intervals during which the clams will expel bits of sand. Every 10 minutes or so lift the clams out of the water, drain and rinse the bowl, and repeat until the water is sand-free. This could take 8 or so tries -- it can be impressive how much sand the little clams have kept inside (and not a pearl in sight!).
- When you finally steam the clams, discard any that do not open. A tightly closed clam is dead and it would be toxic for you to pry the shell open and eat it. It's not unusual to find one or two unresponsive clams in each dozen so I always buy three or four extras so I can be sure to have enough for the finished dish.
- In this recipe I suggest that the cook remove and discard the clam shells. Some may like the appearance of the shells in the serving bowl but I find it can make eating the pasta messy and that the shells can sometimes still contain some bits of sand. But if you prefer to leave the clams in their shells, just skip this step in the recipe.
- If you want to do a "red" version, you can add a cup or so of cherry tomatoes, cut in half, to the recipe, adding the tomatoes to the mixture at the same time you add the garlic and red pepper flakes.
Serves 2 as a main course. To serve 4, use the same quantities except double the number of clams, increase the wine to 1 cup, and cook 1 pound of spaghettini.
- 2 dozen cherrystone or 3 dozen littleneck clams
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 cup dry white wine (Pinot Grigio is an excellent choice)
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 pound dry spaghettini
- Remove the clams from the refrigerator about 45 minutes before you plan to cook them. Scrub any dirt from their shells and place the clams, fully immersed, in a large bowl of cold water. Let sit undisturbed for about 10 minutes to let the clams expel any sand. Lift the clams from the water, drain and rinse the bowl and repeat for as many times as needed to get a clear bowl of water.
- When the water finally is clear of sand, drain the clams.
- In a large sauté pan that has a cover, place the olive oil and put over medium high heat. Add the sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic is light golden brown, about 1 minute.
- Add the white wine and stir. Let the liquid boil for about 30 seconds to combine and cook down just a little bit.
- Add the rinsed clams to the pan. Stir to combine everything and cover tightly, leaving the pan over a medium high heat so that it gently boils.
- In about 4 minutes, lift the cover and check to see if all the clams have opened. Depending on the size of your pan and how crowded the clams are together, it could take another two minutes or so for all the clams to open. If any clams remain tightly closed, remove and discard them.
- Lower the heat and using tongs and a fork, remove the clams from their open shells, discarding the shells and returning the clams to the hot liquid.
- While the clams are steaming, cook the spaghettini according to the package directions, to just al dente -- be sure to not over-cook the pasta because it will be added to the hot clam broth and will cook a bit more then.
- When the pasta is finished cooking and the clams have opened and you've removed the shells, add the pasta and the fresh parsley to the clams and toss to combine.
- Transfer to a serving bowl and serve immediately.