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Linguine con le vongole - Clams Pasta

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These gorgeous Neapolitan noodles in a clams-tomato sauce make a serious gourmet meal in less than 30 minutes.

Many times I wondered how Italian cooks obtained such a strong sea smell in their tomato pasta sauces. There is a long way - simmer fish carcasses in tomato purée for hours. And there is the shorter, brilliant traditional Neapolitan way using clams. Just see how easy it is:

Linguine con le vongole Clams Pasta
Main course for 2
1 kilogram vongole veraci or other clams
400 gr linguine or flat egg noodle or spaghetti
300 gr chopped tomatoes, canned or fresh
2 garlic cloves
1 chili pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
A drop of the very best olive oil
A bunch fresh parsley

1. Italians used vongole veraci clams (tapes semidecussatus) but you can definitely substitute with a number of clams or even mussels. Use what you find but make sure they are really fresh - that means alive. In my parts one can buy a 1 kilogram bag of vongole clams for less than the price of a hamburger. I admit the shells make up most of the weight, but boy do they taste good!

2. You can use just about any olive oil for frying but for the seasoning just before serving please use the very best olive oil you have. It will show.

3. Most people just buy linguine [lean-gwee-neh] but they taste infinitely better if you make them from scratch. See how I make them:

Mix durum wheat semolina flour from the local supermarket with 1 egg per person for a main course. The consistency must be very, very dry, something like a crumble. Then just put the linguine bronze die on the Kenwood kitchen machine and just gradually feed the dough and cut the linguine to the size you want. The edges are a bitted jagged - it doesn't hurt and the sauce sticks even better. That's all there is to it!

Linguine, as you can see, are short flat spaghetti much like Chinese egg noodles. They are much easier to eat for non-Italians than spaghetti and keep a wonderful bite unless grossly overcooked. Making three eggs' worth of linguine took me about 20 minutes, all this while watching the evening news on TV - not very exhausting. If you do not have a Kenwood kitchen machine or pasta extruder, you can make your own pasta with a rolling pin and cut the linguine with a sharp kitchen knife - soba style.


While you prepare the clams sauce, fill your largest pot with water and put on high heat. This will serve to cook the pasta and it can take a long time for a large quantity of water to reach boiling temperature. I recommend you do not salt the water since the sauce will be quite salty by itself. And please, do NOT add any oil.

Rinse the clams under fresh water and listen. The clams are alive! It even says so on the label 'Do not eat unless the animals are alive' (picture). As soon as you rinse them they start opening up, probably for a change of water, and that makes an intriguing, subdued whistling sound.

Heat a tablespoon olive oil in a large pot.

Briefly fry a garlic clove with skin on. When it starts to brown a little remove it and add the clams.

Cover and leave for 2-3 minutes. As they die, the clams will open, releasing the sea water they contain. You'll end up with a lot of milky water at the bottom of the pan. This clam-infused sea water will serve as the basis of our sauce.

As you see above, some clams won't open. They were 'Dead On Arrival' as they say on TV. Since you can never know why they died, it is best to discard these closed clams.

Remove the flesh from the clams. Dip your fingers in a bowl of cold water if the clams are too hot. Leave a few of the best looking clams whole for decor.

Cover and reserve the clams.

Place a clean towel over a steel or plastic bowl and filter the clam juice through the cloth. This step is very important as there is sand, grit and clam shell debris in the juice. That might bring your dentist new business, but won't impress your guests. Reserve the filtered juice.

Finely chop a garlic clove and a red hot chili pepper.

In a saucepan fry garlic and chili in a little olive oil until soft. Pour in the filtered clam cooking juice and reduce by half. This is a concentrate of maritime flavor, sea water stored inside clam shells. A very intense iodine sea smell, not for the faint of heart!

Add the tomatoes, mix and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 3-5 minutes.

I am not the keenest tomato lover so I mash mine to a pulp. If you do love tomatoes leave larger chunks so your guests will know you used real, fresh tomatoes. Your choice.

Add the shellless clams to the sauce and leave over the lowest heat while you cook the pasta.

Cook the pasta in boiling water for 1-2 minutes or more according to the kind of linguine you are using. It is best to under cook it slightly as it will continue cooking for at least a minute when mixed with the sauce.

Summon the guests to the table. Taste the sauce and add a little black pepper or chili powder if needed. You probably won't need any additional salt. If the sauce is too dry, add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water - that will help thicken the sauce. Mix pasta and sauce carefully, trying to cover each linguine with a little sauce.

Finely chop half a bunch fresh parsley.

Present in a large serving dish or directly in the plates. Sprinkle a little chopped parsley on top and, very important, a drop of your very best olive oil. This makes a tremendous difference to the balance of flavor and won't add much fat to this rather lean dish. If you have serious olive oil, now is the time to use it. It won't be overpowered by the clams and will bring a most delicate additional layer of taste to the dish.

This may seem like a complicated dish to the beginner cook but it's all very simple. I've cooked it two Friday evenings in a row, starting at 8PM, and I'm a professional with a rather long work week. The ingredients are not expensive, and clams can be found almost everywhere nowadays. Anybody can do this dish!

Italians will sooner eat the clam shells than adding grated Parmesan cheese to clams or fish pasta. This is one of their strongest culinary taboos so if you do want to verify how good this tastes with Parmesan, be discreet!



  • #1
  • Comment by Steamy Kitchen
I'm hungry! I don't know if I like white sauce or red sauce better with clams.
  • #2
  • Comment by Derek
This recipe is outstanding.  And you're right -- it's a quick, after-work meal.  Thanks!
  • #3
  • Comment by Lisa
Excellent - thanks.
  • #4
  • Comment by Beatrice
Hello Francois,I will make this in the coming week in Alsace, as Metro has vongole veraci on sale.  I've never cooked them, but in New England, one puts clams in water and a little cornmeal to disgorge sand--is that necessary with Italian clams.  About your Kenwood machine (for readers in other parts of the world, Kenwood is a label of Sears, the old US retailer of everything from houses to lawnmowers), if you brought it from the US, how do you convert the voltage?  I have a transformer for my US-made Elna (made in CH, imported to US, moved back to CH), but it would not handle anything as hefty as a kitchen machine.Just scored some fresh Alp cheese and will have fondue tonight!
  • #5
  • Answered by fx
Beatrice, thank you for the comment! About Kenwood, I think you mistake the Japanese electronics brand with the UK company created in 1947 by Ken Wood and still headquartered in Havant, Hampshire, UK. They make the Kenwood Chef in various finishes, and this kitchen robot has a pasta extruder accessory. You can see it on their website kenwoodworld.com
  • #6
  • Comment by Alabama Worley
I learned to cook a similar recipe in Santa Margherita at a small restaurant to which I returned 3 times in one week because this dish was so wonderful. The chef had my six year old daughter in the kitchen making pizza while they made a bed of chairs and tablecloths for my two year old son. The dining experience was perfect, food, service, ambience. The only real difference was a dash of cream mixed in just before serving. I love your blog...my brother has one called Iamnotachef.com I too cook French, Italian, Indian and Mexican. My greatest culinary accomplishment to date is duck in mole sauce after returning from Oaxaca. Thank you for your enthusiasm.
  • #7
  • Answered by fx
I am very glad that you like my blog Alabama and have visited your brother's blog already! Duck in mole sauce sounds like an offer I can't refuse. Thanks!
  • #8
  • Comment by lambzilla
Nice and simple. I'm making this tonight. Great site! I'm spreading the news.
  • #9
  • Comment by Damascene
Brilliant recipe, man. Other recipes similar depend on wine or pernod to arc the taste. Just the clam water is perfect.
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
Damascene, indeed Pernot is a popular choice with vongole, but the clam water packs such an intense seafood taste that it's a pity not to use it. Such superior ingredients don't need much help to turn into a brilliant dish!
  • #11
  • Comment by Leonard
I read this recipe and thought that the desription of the cleaning process of the clams and the presentation of the recipe were wonderful. I plan on trying to make this recipe but I don't know where to find these clams.  You mention that you can find these clams most anywhere but can you give me a source.  I live along the Texas Gulf coast and we get "little neck" clams here.  I would definitely like to try the authentic Italian variety.  I would appreciate any help that you could provide.

leonard thome
  • FX's answer→ Leonard, I wouldn't know where you can get these clams, but if they are flown from Italy you'll get much better results using your local clams, and it will be in character with the dish!

  • #13
  • Comment by Mercedes
Hi! I did a variation of this last night, with local octopus and squid. I had no clam juice on hand, but as I live in Japan, I added 'dashi' (fish stock) to add some depth. It was delicious!

  • FX's answer→ Yes in Japan you must have hundreds of products you could use to do something like this, including fish offal!

  • #15
  • Comment by M Boeglin
FX, I just made this for a party of 12, and it was a huge hit.  Explaining the process of the clams releasing the taste of the sea into the broth was eye-opening to my guests.  5th recipe I've worked with from your site, which is rapidly becoming my main source of inspiration.  I can't tell you how special this site is for me.
  • #16
  • Comment by Marta
Genial, me encantó la explicación de la receta,  de hecho la voy a hacer esta semana entrante. tal cual lo he leido, en la proxima te cuento como lo recibieron los mios.
  • #17
  • Comment by Lou
Absolutely loved this sauce. Used tinned clams and passata but turned out just fine. Thank you.
  • FX's answer→ Thanks glad this worked for you!

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