Spaghetti alle vongole is a dish that is very popular throughout Italy, especially its central regions, including Rome and further south in Campania (where it is part of traditional Neapolitan cuisine).
Types of Clams Used
Palourde, or carpet-shell clams, vongola verace, are used; or the small, Mediterranean Wedge Shell (Donax trunculus), also known as the Tellina or “bean clam”. Both types are also called arselle in Liguria and Tuscany. In America small cherrystone clams may be substituted.
Italians prepare this dish two ways: in bianco, i.e., with oil, garlic, parsley, and sometimes a splash of white wine; and in rosso, like the former but with tomatoes and fresh basil, the addition of tomatoes being more frequent in the south. Traditionally, the bivalves are cooked quickly in hot olive oil to which plenty of garlic has been added. The live clams open during cooking, releasing a liquid that serves as the primary flavouring agent. The clams are then added to the firm pasta (spaghetti, linguine, or vermicelli), along with salt, black pepper (or red pepper), and a handful of finely chopped parsley.
In the Liguria region of Italy, east of Genoa, “Spaghetti alle vongole (veraci)” means spaghetti with tiny baby clams in the shell, no more than the size of a thumbnail, with a white wine/garlic sauce. Linguine also may be used for the pasta in preference to spaghetti.
Italian-American recipes sometimes use cream in this dish, but, although cream has the virtue of amalgamating butter and cheese in some over-the-top sauces for fettuccine, it is quite alien to the spirit of Italian cooking.
In America cheese is sometimes added to this dish, although Italians believe it overpowers the simple flavours of the clams and of good quality olive oil.
Spaghetti Alle Vongole Recipe
- 500g spaghetti
- 1.75 kg fresh vongoles (clams in shells)
- 8 ripe tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 - 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 - 3 large fresh red chillies, finely chopped
- ¾ cup white wine
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- Put the water for the spaghetti on to boil. Rinse the clams in several changes of cold water. Discard any that are open or damaged. Cover the tomatoes with boiling water, leave for 1 minute, then drain and slip off the skins, Remove the seeds and chop the flesh.
- Cook spaghetti according to pack instructions. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan, add the garlic and chilli, then fry gently for a few seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, then add the clams and a splash of wine, salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the clams are open. Drain the pasta, then tip into the pan with the parsley and toss together.
- Serve in bowls with bread for mopping up the juices.