Like so many great Italian dishes, the beauty of this meal is in its simplicity – which also means that the raw ingredients have to be quality.
By Carrie King
About once a month, a hankering for spaghetti with white clam sauce sneaks up from behind, taps me on the shoulder and tells me to pull up a chair at the nearest Italian restaurant so I can order a big, steaming bowl. The most memorable of these sneak-attacks was after my mother and I had seen a movie starring Bill Crystal and Robert DeNiro in which DeNiro, surprise surprise, portrays an Italian mob boss. The movie was rather forgettable – but the scene that starred a mountain of spaghetti with white clam sauce clearly stayed with us because right after exiting the theater we went on a mission for that sauce. Many miles and a few restaurants later, we silently scraped clams and twirled our forks around mouthfuls of spaghetti.
- 3 dozen littleneck clams (8-9 per person), cleaned
- 5 large garlic cloves, finely minced
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp minced chili OR red chili flakes
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
- ¼ cup pasta water
- 1 lb spaghetti or linguine
- Salt and black pepper
- In a large pot of boiling water, drop your spaghetti or linguine to cook until al dente.
- In a skillet wide enough to fit the clams almost in a single layer, add the olive oil, garlic and chili. Sauté over medium low heat for a few minutes, until the garlic starts to turn golden brown and becomes fragrant.
- Turn the heat up a touch and add the white wine, then the clams and half of the chopped parsley.
- Immediately cover the clams with a tightly fitting lid. Let the clams steam for roughly 8-10 minutes, this depends on the size of your clams, how jam-packed the skillet is, etc.
- After 8 minutes, remove the lid and with a slotted spoon or tongs, remove any clams that have opened - set them in a bowl to the side. Keep the lid on for a few more minutes to continue cooking any clams still unopened.
- Add ¼ cup of starchy pasta water to the skillet with the clam sauce and the remaining chopped parsley. Taste and season with a bit of black pepper and salt if needed.
- Drain the pasta and drop it directly into the clam sauce, tossing a couple of times to coat the pasta in sauce. Transfer the cooked clams, shells and all, back into the pasta and sauce and serve.