Updated: Jul 18, 2021
This dish reminds me of summer and my family. The small briny clams in the garlicky white sauce with a pop of lemon is absolutely delicious. It may seem intimidating to make, but the entire dish comes together in less than 30 minutes. This recipe is very very hard to mess up. You are basically steaming clams in white wine, they release their liquid, and then you finish cooking the pasta in that liquid. If you like it spicy, add more red pepper. More garlicky? Add more garlic! Want a sweeter sauce with an onion undertone? Add some onion. You can even add cherry tomatoes or chorizo. Up to you but anything you do will likely work because all you're doing is... steaming clams.
One other major tip is to serve this with crusty bread. It's non-negotiable. You will want to soak up the sauce. Go buy a nice loaf of bread, slice, and toast before serving alongside the dish.
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
1 Lb Spaghetti or Linguine
Roughly 2-3 Lbs of clams
6 garlic cloves, thinly SLICED, not minced
3 tbsp olive oil, plus additional finer quality olive oil for garnish
1 C white wine
1/4 C chicken stock
1 C reserved pasta water
generous sprinkle of crushed red pepper
3/4 stick of butter
Juice of 1 lemon
Generous handful of parsley, plus more for garnish
fine quality olive oil for garnish
a large wide saucepan or a braiser
tongs or a mini strainer that will help you take the pasta directly from the boiling water and add it to the sauce (without straining). Isn’t fully necessary but helps!
All of this occurs at nearly the same time. So before you start, read the recipe a few times and make sure you understand what you’re doing. The general concept is to lightly cook garlic, add clams and wine, steam them with the cover on, remove them from the pan and then add butter/parsley/lemon to finalize your sauce. When the linguine is ALMOST al dente (still hard but nearly perfect), you finish cooking it in the sauce. Then add back the clams (some of which you will have removed the shell).
It‘s important to get the water boiling even prior to adding the clams because you can overcook the clams if you leave them simmering once they have opened for too long. The key there is to add your pasta to the water about 5 min into clam cook-time. See exact steps below.
Soak your clams in a large bowl of water for 30 min to clean them. This will help the sand fall to the bottom of the bowl. Optional: add white vinegar to the water for extra cleanliness.
Prepare a large pot of boiling water.
Heat stove to medium and sauté garlic in olive oil for 1-2 min until LIGHTLY golden and slightly aromatic. This should be done in a wide low-rim saucepan or a braiser. Not a frying pan but not a pot!
Once your garlic is slightly golden, Add clams (first), white wine and chicken stock to the pan. Add a handful of parsley and some red pepper. Bring this mixture to boil, then reduce to a slow simmer and cover the pan. You are now steaming your clams.
Meanwhile, about 5 min into the clams steaming, add linguine to *salted* boiling water.
When most of the clams have opened, remove from the pan and set aside in a separate bowl. You will add these back to the pan once you add the pasta but for now put to the side of the stove. Remove about half of the clams from their shells, place the naked clams into the same bowl, and discard shells. * I like to remove some of the clams from their shells because it’s tactically easier to eat the dish when it’s not composed of so many shells. But its beautiful to place some clams on top at the end, which is why we only de-shell about half of them. ** some clams might take 3 min or so longer than the rest to open. If one doesn‘t open in 3-5 minutes past the majority of the group, discard.
At this point you should have a saucepan of delicious looking simmering sauce. Add your butter, parsley, and lemon to the sauce. Add 1/2 cup of pasta water. Stir and let gently simmer with the cover off.
When the pasta is nearly al dente (usually 6-7 min), remove directly from the pot and add to the sauce mixture with the other 1/2 C pasta water. Let simmer for 2 min or so in the sauce until pasta is perfectly al dente.
Mix clams back into the pan with the pasta, or serve pasta and place clams on top. Serve immediately. Make sure you add extra sauce from bottom of pan to the pasta bowl.
Garnish with additional fresh parsley and good quality olive oil.
Note: I recently made this dish with spicy Italian sausage. It was divine. Edit: before you sauté your garlic, brown and break up your sausage until cooked through. Once cooked fully, remove from pan and set to side. Start entire recipe from there and do not drain the pan of the sausage-oil. Simply add a bit less olive oil to the sausage oil and begin by cooking the garlic in that sausage flavor. Add the sausage back when you add the lemon/ butter/parsley. Can also use chorizo.