Of all the wonderful seafood pasta recipes there are here in Italy, pasta alle vongole is probably the top of the best seller list. Not surprising given how delicious this iconic Neapolitan dish is! This is a dish that many people order in restaurants but rarely make at home. However, it’s actually pretty easy and there’s no residue fishy smell in the kitchen. What you’ll get is a wonderful garlicky aroma that is so mouth- watering!
RED OR WHITE?
Like many other similar dishes, pasta with clams is traditionally made in what Italians call a red or white version (rosso o bianco); in other words, with tomatoes or without.
THE CLAMS OR VONGOLE
The main ingredient for a ‘real’ pasta alle vongole is ‘vongola verace’ commonly known as the cross-cut carpet shell clam. This ridged shell clam is found both farmed and wild here in Italy, but I’ve read that the taste is the same as they eat only what’s in the sea. If you do find vongole veraci, they can be a bit more expensive than other clams. But they are worth it! However, apart from being really delicious, these clams are self-cleaning so they’re unlikely to have sand in them and make the dish much easier to prepare. Of course, many people make pasta alle vongole with other types of clams. The Manila clam, which many Italians call the fake ‘verace’, is widely farmed in the Adriatic sea and Sardinia. Consequently these are used by many cooks to make pasta alle vongole.
Manila clams look very similar to vongole veraci. Another popular clam is the rayed artemis clam. These are smaller, whiter and more rounded but still taste really good too! Of course it’s possible to use tinned clams, but in my opinion you won’t get anywhere near the same flavour, as with fresh clams.
Traditionally this recipe is made with spaghetti, vermicelli or linguine.
Apart from the linguine and clams, this linguine pasta alle vongole recipe has very few other ingredients. In fact, most versions contain nothing more than garlic, peperoncino (Italian red chili pepper), white wine, olive oil and parsley.
There are just 2 points that need care to make sure your linguine pasta alle vongole is perfect. Firstly, in this version the clams are cooked alone first. Then you will need to remove the meat from most of them, keeping just a few in their shells to make the dish look more appetizing! It’s important to discard any unopened shells as this means the clam is dead. Don’t try to open and eat unopened clams! Secondly, if the liquid from the clams appears to have sand in it then it’s best to filter it before adding the cooked clams and liquid to the rest of the sauce ingredients.
- 320-400 g linguine (11-14oz) or vermicelli or spaghetti
- 800 g fresh clams (1.8lbs) about 200g/7oz per person
- 3-5 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped
- 1 peperoncino (red chili pepper) or dried flakes amount depends on your preference
- 4-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1-2 handfuls fresh parsley finely chopped
- salt to taste (we don’t add it to the pasta cooking water)
- 1/2 glass dry white wine
Chop the peeled garlic and parsley finely. If using a whole fresh or dried red chili chop finely too. Remove the seeds to make it milder. Be careful not to touch your eyes or mouth after doing this and wash your hands well before continuing to cook.
Wash the clams in cold water and remove any with broken shells. Some kinds of clams need a lot of rinsing if they have sand in them. But you can also filter the liquid after you have precooked them, so don’t worry so much about the sand.
Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. When it starts to boil add the pasta. You probably don’t need salt as the clams will already be a little salty.
While the water is boiling for the pasta, put the clams in a deep frying pan and cook covered over a medium to high heat until they have opened. (about 5 minutes)
Allow the clams to cool a little and then remove the meat from most of the clam shells keeping some intact. Discard the empty shells and, if necessary, filter the liquid that the clams have produced. Don’t discard it.
Cook the pasta al dente according to the instructions on the packet.
Heat half the olive oil in a frying pan or skillet. Add the garlic and peperoncino. Cook until the garlic starts to soften. Add the clams (with shells and without) with their liquid to the pan and cook for a few minutes. Then, add the white wine and cook further until the alcohol evaporates. Finally, add the parsley and the rest of the olive oil. Continue cooking for another 3-5 minutes and then turn off the heat.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add to the pan with the cooked clams. Mix everything together well and serve immediately with another sprinkling of chopped parsley, if required.
With vongole veraci it’s usually not necessary to do more than rinse the clams under running water. So we never purge them.
However, some people prefer to purge the clams of sand before cooking them. This involves filling a large bowl with cold water and stirring in enough salt to make it salty like the sea. Adding the clams and letting them stand for 30 minutes. The clams will open and release any sand they have inside. You then need to lift the clams from the water and discard the water. If there is sand in the bottom of the bowl, rinse it out and repeat this process until the clams no longer release sand into the water (usually 2 to 3 purging cycles). Discard any clams that are gaping open and refuse to close when prodded.
Remember to throw out any clams that don’t open during the first phase of cooking them.