Spaghetti with clam sauce – or any long pasta with clam sauce for that matter – is a dish that's just as popular across the pond as it is on the peninsula. It combines just a few ingredients to make for a comforting, gratifying repast.
But for all of its simplicity, spaghetti with clam sauce is easy to botch – it all comes down to the ingredients. If you're already well versed in this recipe, here are some tips for ingredient selection that will take it to new heights, followed by a recipe – if you're a newbie, go ahead and give it a whirl.
What to know about the ingredients
Use vongole veraci, which literally means “true clams.” In Italy, the best come from the upper Adriatic, where there's a concentration of clam farms. Buy them alive with the shells that are closed or that close to the touch. When bound tightly in their net, the clams will keep in the fridge – but don't store them for more than two days. Vongole veraci are available all year round.
Spaghettoni, which is a little thicker than standard spaghetti, is the most classic variety to serve with clams, along with standard spaghetti and linguine. Choose pasta that's made from Italian wheat and that's been bronze cut, which results in a coarser texture that better absorbs the slightly "elusive" clam sauce.
3. White Wine
Choose a good quality white wine, preferably one that has the essence of the sea and is slightly aromatic like Vermentino, which harmonizes with the clams. Pour half a glass into the sauce and drink the rest with your meal.
4. Chili Pepper
Dry or fresh, the content of capsaicin (the substance that gives the spiciness) doesn't change. Organic Italian chili peppers are of course preferred – the chili pepper from Calabria is excellent, and the varieties range from cornetto (horned) to diavolicchio (devil).
5. Garlic and Parsley
The garlic bulb should be compact and sprout-free, while the parsley should be freshly cut and bear an intense green color.
Recipe: Joëlle Néderlants
Skill Level: Easy
Time: 30 minutes + 2 hours soaking
Ingredients for 4
2¼ lb./1 kg. of clams
12 oz./350 g. spaghetti
⅔ cup/80 g. dry white wine
1 clove of fresh garlic
fresh or dried chili
extra-virgin olive oil
Collect the clams in cold salted water (2⅓ Tbsp./35 g of coarse salt per 1 liter of water to match the salinity of seawater). Cover and let them drain in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 12 (the longer the better). To drain, collect the clams with your hands without moving any of the sand deposits, and rinse them in running water. Discard the broken or open ones.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and cook the spaghetti.
Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp. oil with garlic in a large pan with crushed, chopped chili
to taste and white wine. Let the wine evaporate for 1 minute, add the clams, a pinch of salt, cover
with a lid, and let them open over medium-high heat.
Remove them from the pan as soon as they're opened, so as not to overcook them. Dispose of any that didn't open.
Strain the cooking liquid through a colander lined with kitchen paper, to eliminate residual impurities.
Pour the sauce into the pan. Drain the spaghetti, setting aside a little of the cooking water, and toss in the pan together with another 2 Tbsp. oil, plenty of chopped parsley, and the clams.
Optional: you can remove the cooked clams from their shells and toss them back into the pasta – just leave 3-4 clams in the shell per plate for garnishing.
Whip and stir until creamy. Plate the pasta, garnish with the clams in their shells, and serve.
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