Feb 28, 2010

Spaghetti alle vongole recipe

It felt like summer today. Warm and sunny, and the air smelled clean. Light-footed people wore overcoats on their arm, and a silly smile on their winter faces. When days like these happen, I like to prepare summery fares, usually involving seafood.

Vongole, which are known in the English speaking world as clams, can be used for a variety of dishes ranging from simple appetizers to chowders down to pasta and risotto. For me the best way to eat them is either simply sauteed over bruschetta or with spaghetti, but strictly tomato-less. This is the best way to enjoy their taste, a heady mix of mellow sweet flesh and iodine.

As usual with clams, there are a couple of things to do before cooking them. First of all discard any open clams that do not react when you touch them. Second, given vongole’s natural habitat, they need to be purged to eliminate any sand they might have ingested: to do this, simply cover the telline with 1 quart of cold salted water (about 1 tablespoon of salt will do) and let them rest for 3 hours somewhere dark. After that time, simply lift them from the water leaving any sand behind.

The recipe below is for spaghetti with clams, yet if you leave the pasta out and stop once the clams are open, you have sautée di vongole, a tasty antipasto on its own. Also, I have made the parsley optional in the recipe because some people aren’t particularly fond of this herb, yet traditionally parsley is a must on pasta with any sort of shellfish. Clearly, you can use this recipe with any sort of small clams that are typical of the area where you live. The freshest your clams the better, and what’s fresher than local?

1 kg (2.2 lb) clams, purged as described above
500 g (1.1 lb) spaghetti
3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons Colatura (anchovy juice)
1 dried peperoncino (or more to taste)
1/2 glass of dry, white wine (optional)
1 tablespoon Italian flat leaf parsley (I prefer fresh basil), chopped

Bring a large pot of very lightly salted water to a boil, in the meantime start heating the oil over a medium flame in a pan wide enough to hold all the clams in one layer.

Once the oil is hot but not smoking, add the garlic and peperoncino, and as soon as the garlic turns golden brown, crank up the heat up to the maximum and add the clams. Shake the pan to distribute the clams as much as possible. Add the wine here, if using, letting it evaporate. Cover the pan and allow the shells to open for 2-3 minutes.

Discard any clams that fail to open, the garlic and the peperoncino. By no means discard the precious clam juice collected at the bottom of the pan! You'll be using it to dress the pasta together with the clams themselves. If you properly purged the vongole, there should be no sand there, but if there still is some, simply strain trough a clean gauze.

The pasta water will probably be boiling by now, so add the spaghetti, pushing them down so they fit into the pot if you don’t have a special high spaghetti pot, stir and check from time to time. Never, under any circumstance, break the spaghetti to make them fit the pot!

You can add the clams to the pasta in their shells, something many of us do in Italy, yet, in regards to your guests, it is courteous to remove the clam meats from most of the shells, keeping only a few to decorate the dishes. The best way to do this is getting messy and using your fingers. (I would recommend you get someone else to help you, so that you speed up things while the pasta cooks.) Once shelled, return the clams to their juice.

As soon as the pasta is cooked slightly short of al dente, drain and add it to the vongole pan, together with the clam meats and juices, and the precious (and all-natural) flavor enhancer Colatura, tossing for a minute over a medium flame to blend the flavors. At this point, the aroma in the kitchen will force you to come to terms with the fact that there will be no leftovers.

Divide the seasoned pasta among four (warm) dishes and garnish with the remaining clams in their shells and, if you like, parsley. Uncork a bottle of chilled white wine and luxuriate.


  1. Another great display of knowledge! I could smell the ocean in that dish! Thank you, Lola:)

  2. Ele: You almost made me want to reconsider my life-long hate of clams,oysters and all things called mussels..Almost..But the presentation was stupendous and it made me think of my dad and his LOVE of all things called mussels.. Keep it up,Anon

  3. Oh I love clams!! I've never tried it in pasta but sounds delicious!

  4. Wow that pasta looks fabulous. Makes me want to dig right in. I miss the tiny clams you can get in Italy. Those are little beauties.

  5. for once i am not hungry leaving here...only because i stuffed myself taking T out on a date before i read, smiles. love me some clams though...

  6. Hello Eleonora, can't wait to try this dish as part of our daily aperitivo - it sounds delicious. Some of my friends prepare the clams in a covered pan over an outside grill. The clams are delicious on their own, with a loaf of crusty bread to sop up the juices and of course a glass of cool crisp Vernaccia.

  7. Cockels and mussels, alive alive-oh! That old Irish song came to my mind immediately. Your posts always speak to all my senses, lovely, oh-lovely Lola!

  8. Thanks for this, my favourite pasta dish! It was such a nice day yesterday, it is lovely to see our little village waking up again!

    Now, just a question for you: Cheesecloth? In Italy? Where?

  9. Oh cruel ! Oh unusual ! Oh punishment ! Terrible to have to read something like this just before lunchtime ! Well, that does it, am off to the kitchen, which is what usually happens when I visit here... As always, it looks simply delicious !!!


  10. I love all seafood and all pasta - but funnily enough I have never put them together.

  11. Thank you all for your delicious comments, my epicurean friends!

    Chef Chuck~ mission accomplished, then!! Woo hoo
    Anon~ Seriously, Walsh loved clams? ;)
    Sook~ sauteed clams are good on everything, ESPECIALLY pasta!
    CCLinda~ I know! In my opinion, the tiny ones are so much better than the famous vongole veraci!
    Brian~ How was the hot date ;)
    FHFG~ I've never tried grilled clams. Interesting!
    Uknown Mami~ they are indeed!
    Geli~ I can just see you on the splash zone, trousers rolled up, digging for clams on your beach!
    starsanclouds~ OK then, fine mesh gauze? Pharmacy!
    Owen~ Get thee to a stove, then! :)
    FF~ And once you will put them together, you'll see–there's no going back!

  12. lola, my god how well you can prepare and then equally photograph food! mouthwatering. that is the first and only time i have used that term on the blogs and although it's trite, it's true.

    i'm a fan of yours. oky doky?


  13. Thank you, friends for stopping by!
    Theresa~ mine too!!
    kj~ I can't take merit for this photo, image © belongs to the person credited below. Welcome back any time!

    xx E

  14. This is one of my favorite dishes, but I've never made it for "fear" of cooking clams. Thanks for the lesson!

  15. Cherrye! Thank you for stopping by and leaving your comment. Cooking clams and other seafood is not as scary as we're led to think. It's actually quite easy and fun.
    I hope you make this and report back with triumphant results.


  16. Was a bit off seafood, but this has made me keen to have some again!

  17. Janet~ it's never too late. Just like riding a bicycle...

  18. This recipe sounds lovely. I am often scared to cook with seafood but as spring is arriving it may be time to try it for a special lunch outside on the balcony!

  19. This is the best dish - just the best. And i do love it alone as an appetizer. The best clams I can get for this in MN are the littleneck clams - they are too big for the dish but I make do. I drie the stores crazy picking out the smallelest clams I can.

  20. Ah, interesting that you link the parsley with the seafood. I'd always assumed that it was added because of the garlic, to counteract its whiffy tendencies. I'm a parsley lover myself, but rarely have any in the house, so tend to do without. I really must set myself up with a herb garden here.

  21. I have wanted to try clams and now I have a great and simple recipe to try. Thanks.

  22. Oh my heavens! This is pure indulgence. Oh my this is sensuous eating, I am so beside myself! AAAARGGGHHHH! AAAAWWWW! beautiful. Food has to be beautiful like this.

  23. Hello, fellow clam-lovers! Littleneck, Venus... whatever as long as they're SMALL and local.

    I'm so happy you enjoy.

  24. Love these, looks like we've got a winner for dinner tonight. Hope I find some fresh ones at the Vittorio Emanuele market :)

  25. This is one of my all time favorite dishes.

    When it's done right and joined by a nice glass or two of wine wine, life is very good.

  26. Oh YUM!
    good thing it is still breakfast here or i would maybe take a bite out of my computer right now!
    beautiful meal and recipe lola dear.

  27. Oh,how I wish I was on the coast, enjoying some Vongoles! Elenora,thank you so much sharing your recipe, my mouth is watering! Now I wish for warming weather.

  28. That looks so unbelievably delicioso! I'm a big fan of pasta dishes that include seafood of one sort or another, with Frutti Di Mari being my favorite.

  29. Thank you for sharing this delicious recipe! i love it