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Spaghetti con Vongole

April 29, 2010

When the weekend rolls around and I take my one or two days off from cooking, Italian food is usually the cuisine of choice for dining out.  This week, one of these days off came a little early because I didn’t have time to go the grocery store after work.  We went to our neighborhood Italian place and of course, I had their Linguine con Vongole. I’ve been eating this dish for over 10 years and have always been reasonably satisfied with it.  That night, however, I just decided that it wasn’t good enough anymore.  This restaurant uses a little cream in their sauce and I don’t think it belongs there.  Yes, I know I’ve said before that I like rich sauces; I just feel like a simple dish like this can hold its own without any help from cream.

After years of eating this dish, I know what I like:  a bold clam flavor punctuated by a hint of garlic in the oil, a bit of tang from fresh lemon juice and a slight kick from hot red pepper flakes.  Sadly, a lot of places don’t get it quite right for me.  Most either skimp on clams or overcook them, add cream as I just mentioned, or overcook the pasta so that what you get is a mushy mess.  I might sound like a tough customer but I’m actually not.  After many years of ordering this dish, I’ve disliked only one to the point of actually not eating it.  That’s saying a lot for me since contrary to my tone here, I tend to be quite forgiving.  I’m of the mind that a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice will make almost anything palatable, so typically, waiters are none the wiser about my dissatisfaction.

On a more positive note, I have tasted quite a few versions done right.  On the northeastern tip of Sicily is a hilltop town, Taormina, that boasts a few restaurants that know how to prepare this dish.  The best Spaghetti con Vongole I’ve had, however, came from a tiny restaurant in Rome.  When I was there last September, I kept returning to this restaurant near the Spanish Steps because they hit the bulls eye with this dish.  Their version had a bold clam flavor and a hint of garlic which all came together in a simple olive oil/wine base.  It was perfect.

I’m making my version tonight and I’ll be submitting it to Presto Pasta Nights.  I’ve been a regular follower of this weekly event that Ruth Daniels of Once Upon a Feast started quite a while ago.  I’m quite excited to now be able to participate, yay!  Katie of Thyme for Cooking is hosting this week’s event and I can’t wait to see the roundup tomorrow.

One last note, don’t let me intimidate you about trying this dish–it’s truly simple.  I’m an authority on these things only in my own mind.  I’m not even Italian.  You know your taste buds so adjust my recipe accordingly.  The only thing I would highly recommend is to use the best ingredients you can for this short list and let them do the talking.  Enjoy.

Spaghetti con Vongole (Clams)

  • 2 lbs fresh Manila clams (Let them sit in cold salted water for 30 minutes to an hour before using)
  • 1 jar (about 6 oz) baby clams, drained but save the clam juice (my local provider didn’t have enough fresh clams left so I’m supplementing with a jar of imported Italian clams)
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1  tablespoon butter (optional)
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup white wine
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 pound of spaghetti or linguine

Prepare pasta according to directions.

In a large pan that will accommodate the cooked pasta, heat olive oil on medium heat.  Add the butter at the same time if you’re using it.  I find that it gives the sauce more body but it’s not necessary.  When the oil is warmed up, add the red pepper flakes.  If they sizzle too much in the oil, turn the heat down before you add the sliced garlic.  If it’s okay, add the garlic and cook for a minute, being careful not to let them brown.  Add the reserved clam juice and the wine and bring to a boil.  After a about 2- 3 minutes, the alcohol should have evaporated and the liquid reduced a bit.  Add half of the chopped parsley and the juice of half a lemon and season to taste.  I tend to use a whole lemon but this is my preference.  Add the rest if your taste buds are like mine.

Add the fresh clams, cover the pan and simmer on medium for about 3 – 4 minutes or until the clams open up.  It shouldn’t take much longer than this for all of them to do so.  Get rid of the stubborn ones that remain closed.  At this point you can either remove the cooked clams and set them aside but I think this is too much work so I leave them in the pan.  Add the jar of baby clams and let them warm up in the sauce for a bit.  I actually like to use a combination of canned/jarred clams with fresh ones because the juice they come in lends a stronger clam flavor to the final dish.  Add the pasta and toss with the sauce.  It may look a bit thin but the pasta just needs to sit in the sauce for a bit and absorb some of the liquid.  A minute or two should do it.  I like to drizzle a little extra olive oil on my pasta after I plate it because I think that olive oil and clams go really well together.  Garnish with a lemon wedge and chopped parsley.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2010 12:12 AM

    My favorite italian dish! Your spaghetti looks so good!

  2. April 30, 2010 4:25 AM

    Great post! And the photo has me wanting to lick the screen – all before my morning coffee ;-D

    Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights.

  3. April 30, 2010 5:06 AM

    I cook with mussels lots, here in France, but have never used clams. I agree, with most seafood, if it’s fresh, simple is best. (And, if it’s not, why bother?)

    • April 30, 2010 7:15 AM

      Katie, mussels are just delicious. You’re inspiring me to make mussels in white wine sauce. Thanks for the warm welcome!

  4. April 30, 2010 6:07 AM

    What an absolutely beautiful pasta dish, it would make a really elegant dinner.
    Wishing you a fab weekend ahead.
    *kisses* HH

  5. April 30, 2010 10:22 AM

    This sounds wonderful. But clams aren’t cheap here… I think it would be great as a first course.

    I know what you mean about the cream. We recently steamed mussels and added a little cream to the broth. It was good, no doubt about it, but we too decided that next time we’d omit the cream and simply use white wine and parsley – maybe a little thyme as well. And after reading your clams recipe, we may have to add a few red chili flakes too.

    (Beautiful photo of the spaghetti with clams)

    • April 30, 2010 4:47 PM

      Elizabeth, this would be great as a first course. Then there would be room enough to also enjoy a second one. 🙂

  6. April 30, 2010 10:59 AM

    I think everyone has their own predilections, likes and dislikes when it comes to certain dishes. I, for one, am very picky about my lasagna. So I feel your pain at trying to find the perfect spaghetti con vongole. It looks like you’ve hit the nail on the head with this recipe, though!

    • April 30, 2010 4:54 PM

      Thanks, Joanne. I hope it’s not such a bad thing to be so particular about food. I can’t help what I like. It’s always a fun challenge to make something you like better by preparing it yourself.

      I like your blog platform–making everyday foods healthier. We could all use that.

  7. April 30, 2010 2:40 PM

    That is just simple and delicious. Just let the natural ingredients shine through. I love clams prepared like this.

    • April 30, 2010 5:03 PM

      A blog about ice cream? How fun! I’ve been obsessed about trying to make my own and bought a couple of ice cream and gelato books. Just waiting for warmer weather to break the seal on my ice cream maker! Will be visiting your blog for inspiration.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • May 4, 2010 3:23 PM

        Stop by anytime. You don’t have to wait for warmer weather. Ice Cream is good all year long. If I can help with any ice cream questions just let me know.

  8. April 30, 2010 3:14 PM

    Yummy! Great blog you’ve got here!

  9. April 30, 2010 6:02 PM

    looks perfect. i wish i liked clams! or at least had access to fresh ones!



    • April 30, 2010 6:18 PM

      Thanks, Heather. I popped into your blog and your dark chocolate Guinness Ice Cream looks like a must-try!

  10. April 30, 2010 8:06 PM

    this is a weekly event at my house….nothing better than fresh clams in their natural juices over pasta…..your photos are great! I’m sure it tasted even better than it looked

    • April 30, 2010 8:53 PM

      Thanks, Chef Dennis! I wouldn’t mind eating this every week, too. Thanks for the comment on the photos–I’m working on it but I’ve got a lot to learn. 🙂

  11. May 2, 2010 5:34 AM

    I love the fresh idea and the tip on lemon juice and clams. Well done!

  12. Liz permalink
    May 2, 2010 5:45 AM

    What a fresh and pretty photo!

  13. May 2, 2010 7:09 AM

    You make yours much like I make mine and it’s delicious – cream totally unnecessary.

  14. May 8, 2010 8:09 AM

    Wow, that looks delicious! I love this dish but for some reason don’t make it very often. I think I’ll have to give it a try this coming week. I love your site. Stylish and uncluttered. I also really like your taste in food and will be back.
    Greetings from Gibraltar.

    • May 8, 2010 10:08 AM

      Please let me know how this recipe turns out for you. By the way, I popped into your site and noticed that you added me to your blog list–I’m flattered! Thanks so much! I’ll be visiting often.

  15. Patrick O'Connell permalink
    August 15, 2010 9:46 PM

    My favorite dish ever!

  16. limerent permalink
    April 1, 2011 1:40 PM

    This is the first time I tried any Vongole pasta dish since I first ordered it at a restaurant last week. I liked your recipe for its simplicity (olive oil and white wine?–count me in!). It was a decent effort on my part, but I think the fettucine I used ruined the dish for me. Maybe it is that brand that was bad, or the way I prepared it. Anyway, the pasta taste overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the dish. Next time I make this, I will not use that brand of pasta again!

    I was all set to buy fresh clams at the market, but I said I wanted smaller clams so I was steered towards the frozen section where they sold 16oz frozen bags of cooked Chilean baby clams. There was frozen clam juice in the bags, just dump the contents in a pan and heat. The next time I make this dish, I will have to remember to strain the juices to prevent the sand and fine shell pieces from going into the sauce!

    Thank you for sharing your recipe.

  17. Kathryn Bielinski permalink
    April 30, 2011 12:50 PM

    Sounds wonderful! We were just in Italy and had wonderful spaghetti con vongole, and I can’t wait to make this recipe. I wonder if you would share the name of the restaurant near the Spanish Steps.

  18. January 13, 2012 7:56 PM

    This is one of my favorite pasta dishes as well. Just a couple of days ago, my husband and I stopped at our neighborhood Italian restaurant for dinner after work. I had this dish, but was quite disappointed. I make this at home quite often too, so I will try your recipe next time. It looks great!


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