Spaghetti alle vongole (clams)
My other passion, apart from cooking and eating, is reading detective books. A favourite author is Timothy Holme whose detective, Achille Peroni, is the ‘Rudolph Valentino’ of the Italian police. Not only does Comissario Peroni hunt down murderers and villians, but he also is on a quest to find the best spaghetti alle vongole that Venice has to offer.
I too have been on a quest to find the best recipe to make spaghetti alle vongole as it’s surprising hard to get right. There are only six ingredients so it’s all about the cooking technique to create a briny, seafood tasting dish where the pasta has absorbed all the flavour from the clams.
The only problem is finding the clams. If you ever see them in a fishmonger, scoop them up and give this recipe a go – you will not be disappointed. I only tend to cook this dish when I’m on holiday in Italy or France where clams are piled high in every fish market.
I made this dish for Atticus when he was 8 months old on his first holiday to Le Marche in Italy. I chopped up his portion of spaghetti into tiny morsels and cut the clams in half (they are already tiny). He inhaled the lot.
Miraculous ingredients: Fresh clams, white wine, fresh parsley, good quality spaghetti (Giuseppe Cocco is excellent)
Spaghetti alle vongole
500g fresh clams
½ glass of white wine (the same quality that you would drink!)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ fresh red birds eye chilli, finely chopped
20g fresh parsley, finely chopped
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
350g spaghetti (Giuseppe Cocco is very good)
Prepare the clams first. Give the clams a quick rinse in running water and then tip in a sauce pan with a close fitting lid. Add the white wine. Place the sauce pan with the lid on a medium heat. After a couple of minutes, stir the clams with a wooden spoon to make sure the ones on the top move to the bottom of the pan. The clams are ready when all the shells are fully open, about 5 minutes in total.
Carefully pour the clam juice and wine from the sauce pan into a measuring jug and reserve for later. Any grit (from inside the clams) will fall to the bottom and can then be discarded once this cooking liquor has been used. Remove the clams from their shells and place in a dish.
Place a large pan that can hold a good 3 litres of water onto a high heat. When the water starts to boil add a teaspoon of salt and all the spaghetti. Set the timer to cook the spaghetti for only ¾ of its cooking time (6 mins instead of 9 mins for the brand I use). The spaghetti will finish cooking in the reserved clam liquor to give it even more flavour.
Put a large deep frying pan that also has a tight fitting lid on a medium heat and add all the olive oil. Add the finely chopped garlic, chilli and parsley and cook for 1 minute. Don’t let the garlic brown and release any bitterness.
When the timer for the spaghetti goes off after ¾ of the cooking time has elapsed, add all the spaghetti to the large frying pan of garlic and parsley and carefully pour in the clam liquor without adding the sediment from the bottom – the liquor should just cover all the spaghetti. If there is not enough clam liquor, add some of the pasta water. Stir everything together.
Once the spaghetti is al dente (soft on the outside but slightly hard in the middle), turn off the heat, mix in the clams and serve.
Preparation time 10 minutes, cooking 15 minutes, 2 adult portions, 2 child portions