Pasta alle Vongole
- Kitchen sponge
- cutting board
- Large pot for pasta
- Large pan with lid
- wooden spoon
- Small bowl for discarded shells
- 1 kg small clams in the shell manila, vongole, little neck
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 fresh Birdseye chilies or 1 tbsp dried chilis
- salt and pepper for seasoning
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 500 g dried spaghetti
Clean and Prep Clams
- Check the clams. They should be closed. For open clams, gently tap them on the counter or cutting board and see if they react by closing. If they don’t react after 3 minutes, throw them away. Any clams with chipped or cracked shells throw them away.
- Soak clams in cold water for one hour. This releases any sand or dirt inside the shell.
- Pick up each individual clam and give it a scrub with a kitchen sponge to get rid of outside grit and dirt.
- Rinse each clam and place in a colander to prepare to cook.
While the clams are soaking... Prep your ingredients.
- Boil water and season with salt for the pasta in a large pot.
- Peel and mince garlic.
- Mince chili.
- Pick parsley leaves off stems and roughly chop.
- Bundle parsley stems together.
- Pour a glass of wine.
Pasta alle Vongole
- Heat a large empty pan with a lid on high heat to warm up.
- Cook the pasta in the pot of boiling salted water and cook until al dente 8-10 minutes (depending on the package).
- After the spaghetti is cooking for about 4 minutes add olive oil into the heated pan.
- Quickly add garlic, parsley stalks, chili, salt, and pepper, and move with a wooden spoon so the garlic doesn’t burn for 1 minute.
- Carefully add the clams and wine (it may splatter). Shake the pan to disperse the seasoned oil and close the lid.
- Allow to cook for about 6 minutes, giving the closed pan a shake every minute on the heat.
- Pull the parsley bundle out.
- Drain the pasta and add the pasta directly into the clam pan.
- Fold in the pasta with the clams and liquid and toss together.
- Add a little extra olive oil and chopped parsley leaves.
- Serve immediately and enjoy. ***Any clams that did not open while cooking, throw them away. Do not eat them.
Pasta alle Vongole, meaning pasta with clams, represents a delectable dish that offers both simplicity and rich flavors. This quick and easy-to-cook pan of comfort pasta is infused with the freshness of the sea. It stands as an excellent option for a weeknight dinner and holds a special place in Italy’s culinary traditions, notably as part of the Feast of Seven Fishes or festa dei sette pesci, a cherished Christmas celebration. This recipe accommodates various seasons, making it suitable for both light summer indulgence and warm winter comfort.
This rendition of Pasta alle Vongole is a tribute to my friend Liz, whose passion for food, Italy, and valuable advice inspired its creation. During my Sicilian travel preparations, Liz’s two fantastic recommendations profoundly influenced me: firstly, to rent a car for Island exploration road trip, and secondly, to seek out Pasta alle Vongole.
Traditional Pasta alle Vongole is from the Campania region of Italy, but seafood and shellfish are emphasized in the Sicilian diet. I sought out this special dish in Sicily’s Northwest coastal town, San Vito Lo Capo, not far from Palermo. This tranquil gem is renowned for its lovely beaches, historic sites, rock climbing and the annual culinary Cous Cous festival held in September.
The recipe features clams within their shells, ideally sourced sustainably, whether fresh or frozen. Closed clams are optimal for purchase; any open clams should be tapped on a surface. If they respond by closing, they are suitable for cooking; otherwise, discard them. Freshness is key; clams should exude a briny ocean scent, not rancid or fishy odors.
Cooking clams is surprisingly uncomplicated. Think of them as popcorn—their shells will start to open after about 3-4 minutes of cooking. A gentle pan shuffle and any unopened clams should be removed by the 7-minute mark. Juicy clams rely on avoiding overcooking and overcrowding in the pan; remove the pan from heat as soon as they open.
The Parsley —Italian or flat-leafed—is customary. However, you can substitute fresh basil or chervil. The herbs are used to brighten the flavors at the end. To minimize waste, I maximize the use of parsley by preserving the stems. These stems are tied together and cooked alongside the clams, imparting their essence to the broth.
For those drawn to spice, I love the use of fresh chilis, particularly African Birdseye Chilis for their heat without a strong flavor profile that changes the taste of the dishes. Alternatively, seek the classic Calabrian Chilis or dried Pepperoncino for an authentic Italian touch.
What makes Pasta alle Vongole stand out is its simplicity. Apart from clams, the recipe hinges on kitchen staples: spaghetti, garlic, white wine, olive oil, chilis, and fresh herbs—resulting in a satisfying dinner. The clams add an elevating touch to these otherwise straightforward components.
If clams are unavailable, delightful variations of this dish can include using tinned anchovies and capers or mussels. While departing from the traditional Vongole, these alternatives retain their own irresistible appeal.