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During the summers on Cape Cod we went clamming twice a week. This was a ritual and at that time the beach in front of our house was a minefield of clams. There were three of us; my brother Mike, my cousin Mary Lou and myself. It took us no time to collect a large bucket of beautiful little necks. We enjoyed clamming so much that we just hated it when we had filled our quota. We dug with our hands and left big holes in the sand. As the tide came in we watched the waves rolling up the beach washing away our path of holes.
We had huge trays of clams on the half shell and the rest we use to make Spaghetti alle Vongole. To us it was not a specialty dish, just one of the pasta dishes our family always prepared and loved.
As I spend some time revisiting Cape Cod, the first thing I did was to go to the fishmonger where I bought fresh little necks. I couldn’t wait to make this dish for my husband who isn’t fond of pasta with fish. He would never even try it so I always made it just for myself. This time however I got him to join me and he was immediately convinced that he had missed something special all these years.
By the way, this has to be one of the easiest pasta dishes you can make, that is, if you can get fresh clams. Do not use canned clams, as they really don’t come close to the flavor you want to achieve.
Spaghetti Alle Vongole
Spaghetti with Clams
Prep Time: 10
Cook Time: 20
Yield: 4 Servings
3 lbs fresh clams (little necks preferably)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, whole
1 fresh pepperoncino (chili pepper or sprinkle a few pepper flakes, optional)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup clam liquid (more if needed)
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
1 lb. spaghetti
Let the clams sit in cold water for at least one half hour to allow the sand to come out. Scrub the shells with a brush. Clams that are opened are not fresh and must be discarded. Cook the clams in about 1 cup of water allowing the clams to steam open. Remove them from the water and discard any clams that do not open. Reduce the water by boiling it for about 2-3 minutes to condense the flavor of the clam liquid. Strain the liquid to make sure there is no remaining sand and put it aside.
Remove the clams from the shells leaving about 5 per person in the shells for garnish. Chop the remaining clams and set them aside. This step is optional, as in Italy they never remove them from the shell.
Sauté the garlic and pepperoncino over medium heat. Add the wine and clam liquid into the pan. If you need more liquid, add more clam juice. Cook the sauce for several minutes and add the clams back into the sauce at the end.
Boil a large pot of salted water and cook the spaghetti until al dente. Put the cooked spaghetti into the sauce and toss the spaghetti with the sauce until it has absorbed some of the flavorful liquid. If you choose to not add the pepper flakes, serve a dish of red pepper flakes on the side. Sprinkle the chopped parsley and squeeze fresh lemon over the top.
Note: For a red sauce, add about 1 1/2 lbs. of tomatoes, skinned, seeded and cubed or cheery tomatoes cut in half or quarters. Add the tomatoes with the wine and clam liquid. Fresh tomatoes need only a few minutes to cook if you want them to remain whole. Do not use tomato sauce as this is a very different sauce and the flavor of the clams will be lost in the heavy flavor of the tomato sauce.