This is by far my favorite pasta dish. Like ever. If I see it on a menu when going out to eat I will probably order it without really looking at the other dishes. The subtle and simple flavor of the shells, the briny and sweet clam meat and the hit of garlic and chili is just irresistible to me. Luckily, if good quality clams (of any kind, really) are available to you, it’s very easy and quick to make at home as well.
Instead of using the more commonly used small clams such as small carpet shells and wedge clams, I often prefer to use larger venus clams, smooth clams, cockles, or large carpet shell clams if I can find any. Not only do the larger clams provide more of that briny, slightly chewy clam meat, but it also makes the dish a bit more pleasurable to eat.
More pleasurable? But how? Isn’t this dish one of the best seafood and pasta dishes there is? Yeah, sure it is. However, using small clams often gives me the feeling of eating a bowl of pasta with rocks scattered through it. Sure, flavor-wise the little clams are just as delicious as the larger ones, but I always find it a bit of a hassle picking out all the little clamshells while trying to pry out the tiny bit of meat hidden within – and I am a glutton after all…
Here in Greece I am lucky to find many different sizes and types of clams at the fish market and I usually like to combine different clams in the same dish. You can use whatever clams you like and are available to you. Don’t mind the smaller clams and actually prefer the look of a bowl full of colourful shells? You do you. This recipe will work for most clams and bivalves, really. You could even use mussels if nothing else is available. The cooking time will vary slightly, depending on the type of shell you decide to use, but the main rule stays the same: the clams are done when they have opened.
So, you can use whatever clams your prefer, but what about other additions to the recipe? Sometimes I see this dish with some tomato added to the ingredients, but I prefer to make it without any tomato since I like the liquid released from the clams to be the primary flavoring agent… and yeah, all that garlic and chili too. In my opinion, tomatoes would overpower the simple, subtle flavors of the clams. Some other recipes sometimes call for a splash of cream, but I find this unnecessary as well as it considerably reduces the nice briny flavor of the clams. I do like to add a tiny knob of butter for ‘creaminess’, but to be really honest the dish does not really need it and is perfectly fine with just an extra splash of good olive oil.
This dish is amazingly simple and within mere minutes (minus the time you need to clean and de-grit the clams) you can put an amazing dish on the table that tastes and looks amazing!
Linguine alle Vongole
- 500g linguine
- 1 - 1.2kg Manila-, Venus-, or Littleneck clams
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 - 2 red chilli pepper (depending on spiciness) , thinly sliced
- 250ml dry white wine
- 25g butter (optional)
- 20g fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Salt to taste
MethodNote: Clams need to be purged of sand and grit at least an hour before cooking. Place clams in a bowl filled with salted water and place in the refrigerator until needed. I describe my method here. Before use, thoroughly scrub and rinse clams until very clean.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook linguine according to the instructions on the package.
- In the meantime, place a large frying pan over medium-high heat – the pan should be big enough to hold both the clams and linguine later.
- Add one tablespoon of olive oil and the thinly sliced garlic and chili pepper to the hot frying pan. Fry garlic until it starts to brown slightly.
- Add clams, dry white wine, and freshly ground black pepper to the frying pan. When the clams start to open they are done.
- Remove pan from heat and add the knob of butter (if using), remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and the finely chopped parsley. Stir until butter has melted completely.
- Drain linguine and add to the pan of clams. Stir to combine. Serve immediately.