Spaghetti with clams is a typical dish of the Neapolitan tradition that has now become a symbol of Italian cuisine in the world! A great classic, easy and fast-to-make, made with spaghetti, clams, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Like any traditional recipe, there are many versions: with vegetables such as zucchini, with tomatoes for a tasty red variant, or flavored with bottarga.
Now we’ll show you the authentic clam sauce recipe of the Neapolitan tradition: spaghetti with clams, the classic white version. In Italy we usually use Veraci clams (similar to cherrystones clams), big and thick or Lupini clams (similar to littlenecks clams): smaller, cheaper but very tasty. Both are typical of the Adriatic Sea.
You need only a few ingredients, fresh and of excellent quality, to make perfect appetizing spaghetti with clams Italian-style and, most important, you have to follow few rules of execution:
- Choose fresh clams (and for fresh we intend alive!)
- Clean the clams from the sand, leaving them to soak in cold salted water for at least 2 hours.
- Drain pasta al dente and finish cooking the spaghetti in the clam sauce.
Follow all the secrets below, step by step and you will bring to the table, in less than 30 minutes, creamy and tasty spaghetti with clams!
Spaghetti with Clams Italian Recipe
- 500 g (1,1 lb) of spaghetti
- 2 Kg (4,4 lb ) of littlenecks clams
- extra virgin olive oil
- 150 ml of dry white wine
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
- a bunch of chopped fresh parsley
- 1 red chilli pepper. Optional, only if you like it. You can replace it with freshly ground black pepper before serving.
- coarse salt
NOTE ABOUT GARLIC: we choose to leave the garlic whole and then remove it from the sauce, so as not to overly cover the flavor of the clams with its strong flavor. If you prefer, however, you can chop it and leave it in the sauce, according to your taste.
Kitchen Tools and Equipment
A very fine mesh strainer is essential to filter the water of the clams; we opted for professional super fine mesh strainer with strengthened non slip handles . Even a large and low pot is important because it must contain both the clam sauce and spaghetti, that will have to finish cooking in the clam sauce. So have a look to this stainless steel dutch oven casserole with lid . Finally, very useful to drain spaghetti directly into the pan to continue cooking, is this silicone spaghetti strainer.
How to Make Spaghetti with Clams: Directions
Before moving on to show you the step by step recipe, we would like to make some considerations. Pasta with clam sauce, whether white or with tomato, is not a dish that is eaten every day in Italy.
This is a simple, easy and tasty dish that in Italy you can enjoy in the best restaurants or in families, maybe on Sunday lunch, or Saturday night dinner, when people have more time to cook. This is because in Italy this recipe is ALWAYS made with fresh clams, that’s why the recipe needs time. Canned clams already cooked and chopped are not used. NEVER. Even if we have no time.
Fortunately, however, there is a trick that we often use when we want to eat pasta with clams and do not have the time/desire to clean fresh clams: we clean them ahead of time, then freeze them with their water. The details of this procedure can be found at the end of this recipe in the paragraph “How to clean clams ahead of time”.
In the unfortunate case you want to use canned chopped clams, skip the first steps and go directly to step 5. Sigh 🙁
How to Clean Clams
Step 1) – First thing first, place the clams in a bowl and fill it with cool tap water. Add a handful of coarse salt and let them soak for about 2 hours. During this time they will spit out the sand from inside their shells. Then remove the clams from the water and scrub them to clean any particles or grit from the outside surface.
Step 2) – Place them in a stainless steel stockpot and cook over medium heat for about 2 or 3 minutes, NOT MORE, covered with a lid (NO oil and NO water). Pay attention to not overcook the clams otherwise they become hard and rubbery. This step is only to open the shells so that the liquid they contain comes out. IMPORTANT: discard the clams that have not opened because they are probably not so fresh.
Step 3) – Now you need to strain the liquid. So with a slotted spoon , remove the clams and place them in a separate dish. Then with an extra fine mesh strainer, filter the liquid to remove any residual sand. In fact the liquid, that is pure clam and sea flavor, is used to make the clam sauce and is essential for the recipe so don’t thrown it away!
Step 4) – Now remove the clams from the shell. Place them on a plate with a little liquid to keep them soft. Keep some clams in their shells which will be used to decorate your dishes before serving.
How to Make Clam Sauce
Step 5) – In a stainless steel dutch oven casserole heat plenty of extra virgin olive oil and two cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole. Sauté for about 3 minutes over medium heat, then add the clams and (if you like) the red chilli pepper.
Step 6) – Stir and cook for 1 or 2 minutes then raise the heat and blend with the dry white wine. Let the wine evaporate over high heat for 1 minute then add a ladle of clams water you had set aside.
Step 7) – Stir and cook over high heat for 5 minutes then remove the garlic cloves and the red chilli pepper.
Step 8) – Now add plenty of chopped parsley and turn off the heat. The clam sauce is ready! Next steps we are going to cook and season spaghetti.
How to Cook Spaghetti and Season them Properly with Clam Sauce
Step 9) – Fill a large pasta pot with water, bring to a boil and then add the coarse salt. Follow this proportion: 1 liter of water x 100 g (3,50 oz) of pasta; 15 g (0,50 oz) of coarse salt x 1 liter of water. So for this recipe you need: 5 liters of water x 500 g (1,1 lb) of pasta + 75 g (2,50 oz) of coarse salt. When the water boils, put spaghetti. We have opted for rather thick bronze drawn durum wheat spaghetti, such as Tuscanini authentic Italian spaghetti . Cook the spaghetti following the cooking times written on their packaging then, 1 minute before the end of cooking, with the help of a spaghetti strainer , drain and place them directly in the saucepan with the clam sauce.
Step 10) – Now finish cooking over high heat for about 1 or 2 minutes, stirring constantly. In this way the pasta absorb even more flavor and juices of the clam sauce. Serve hot adding the clams in the shell as decoration.
Spaghetti with Clams: Some Important Informations
- It’s important to salt the water in which the clams are put to soak so they can spit out the sand from inside their shells without loosing their taste. Really the ideal thing to do, if you live in a place with a clean sea, would be to use sea water!
- If some clams don’t open immediately after one or two minutes of cooking, they must be discarded as it means that the shellfish inside was already dead. You must not insist and prolong cooking to make them open. It is also strictly forbidden to force them to open with a knife, they must open spontaneously with heat and in a short time.
- The cooking of the clams must be very short, at most 8/10 minutes including the minutes to make them hatch. Longer cooking will make the clams too tough.
- Fresh clams must be cooked immediately, that is the same day you have bought them. Rimember that they are alive so you can keep them in the refrigerator wrapped in a wet cloth just for few hours.
- Clam sauce can be kept for a maximum of 3 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container or can be frozen.
How to Clean Clams Ahead of Time
If you want to have the clams ready to make the sauce, maybe for a sudden dinner with friends, you can perform the longest and most boring but necessary steps some days ahead so:
- purge the clams in salted water for about 2 hours (step 1)
- let them hatch by making them cook 2/3 minutes till they open (step 2)
- throw the unopened clams and filter the water of the clams (step 3)
- shell the clams (step 4)
Now you can freeze the cooked clams with their water placing them in a glass jar (#ad) and store them for maximum 3 months. This way you will have the clams already clean and ready to use!
Spaghetti with Clams: Variants
RED CLAM SAUCE – For tomato lovers and for those who prefer a colorful dish, the most popular variant is the red version of spaghetti with clams. If you want to get just a touch of red and not overwhelm too much the flavor of the clams, add some little tomatoes cut in half (cherry or datterino tomatoes) to the clams. If you want to get a red clam sauce, add a cup of tomato passata before adding the clams. Cook for about half an hour and then add the clams and cook another 3/4 minutes.
SPICY CLAM SAUCE – Another variant of the classic recipe of spaghetti with clams concerns the more or less spicy taste. Spaghetti with clams are popular in Italy in all seaside towns, from north to south. In southern Italy, the use of hot chilli pepper is more widespread, while in northern Italy they use ground black pepper. However, the use of chilli or black pepper and its quantity depends only on the taste of each one, in fact these ingredients can be even added before serving the dish.
CLAM SAUCE WITH ZUCCHINI – Another variant is the addition of zucchini: cook them in oil with garlic and parsley and then add the clams.
CLAM SAUCE WITH BOTTARGA – In the classic white version of the spaghetti with clams recipe, is often given an extra touch of sea flavor by adding a little grated bottarga before serving.