Today we learn how to make spaghetti alle vongole, or spaghetti with clams. There is a white version and a red version, we are making spaghetti alle vongole biacno. One of the great pasta recipes out of the southwestern coast of Italy, popular in Naples, Capri and the Amalfi coast. This is a super simple but easy pasta recipe. It is basically an evolution of spaghetti algio e olio with the addition of clams. Follow along.
Serves 2 (double for 4)
15 Little Neck Clams
1/2 LB (250 grams) Spaghetti
3 Garlic Cloves, sliced thin
3 Fresh Chili De Arbol or 1/2 Teaspoons of red pepper flakes
3-4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
1/2 Cup White Wine, Dry not Sweet
1/4 Cup Parsley, Finely Chopped
1/2 of Reserved Pasta water As needed
Bring a pot of salted water. I like to cook the pastas that require pasta water as an ingredient in smaller pots or with less water. When you do this, use let salt. When chefs tell you to use a ton of salt, they usually are advising that in the context of huge pots of water. So I lightly salted my water and cooked it in a smaller pot. But either way works. I just find that large pots of water almost make it impossible to make the water starchy enough to do the job you want it to.
Soak the clams in cool water with some salt when you get them. Let them sit and purge any grit. Then rub them underwater and sorta give them a final rub clean before getting ready to cook. You probably won’t get ALL the grit out, but it will go a long way and keeping your pasta nice and grit-free. Set those aside.
Prepare the garlic, chilis, and parsley. Then bring everything to the stove and get ready to focus in on making this. Its gonna all come together in about 12-15 minutes.
Next to your pot of pasta water, get a nice big pan, one that you have something that can act as a cover once the clams are in to create steam. But first, on medium-low heat, add enough olive oil to coat the pan generously, then add the garlic and chilis in the cold oil and slowly heat them up. Once the oil is hot and the garlic is soft and sizzling, you can add the clams. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute in the hot oil. Then kill the heat, add the wine, turn the heat back on, and put a cover on top. Steam the clams to cook.
Clams are one of the easiest things to cook. They have a built-in timer. When they open, they are telling you, “get me off the heat immediately”. You will see the pop open a little, keep an eye out, in 10 seconds that will full pop open and the clam is done. So after about 5 minutes, drop your pasta into the water and start cooking, then open the lid and start to check, clams will likely range in sizes and not all open at the exact time. Have a bowl with a strainer on stand by. As clams open, pick them up, drain the juice back into the pan and add the cooked clams to the strainer. Put the lid back on if you have to continue cooking the other clams and pull them as they open. Then shuck most of the actual clams from their shells, but keep about 3-4 shelled clams per plate of pasta your intend on serving for presentation. Put the de-shelled clams in a bowl and set aside.
At this point, you have a pan of oil, garlic, peppers, white wine, and clam juice. Cook that on medium heat, slowly reducing and concentrating the flavor until the pasta is about 1-2 minutes away from being cooked to the package instructions or just under al dente. Then add the pasta to the saucepan, bump up the heat to medium-high and with tongs, shake the pan and gently stir the pasta to help create the emulsified sauce. Add pasta water as you need to help control the consistency. Keep tossing and shaking until you see a nice sauce form, and coat the pasta. If it gets too reduced or dry, add more pasta water. Once the pasta is cooked perfectly, add the clams without the shells, a sprinkle of parsley, give it one final shake. Then it’s ready to serve.
Serve in a bowl, each serving should have a few clams with shells in the bowl with a good final sprinkle of fresh parsley. You can add cheese if you wish but it's not necessary.
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