I love pasta, and one of my favourite pasta dishes that I find hard to refuse if it’s on the menu is Spaghetti alle Vongole, which is a traditional dish from Napoli! I will often judge a restaurant on the basis of how good their spaghetti alle vongole is. I usually only make it though when we are at the beach every summer and our friendly fish monger from Terracina hand selects each vongole for me. Yes, he really does that for me! I was just thinking though that as this dish is so quick and easy to make, I really should make it more often throughout the year although I suppose I associate it with summer. The addition of tomato is a personal choice which many purists say shouldn’t be included. I used only 5 little cherry tomatoes chopped very finely, but if you have some homemade pasta sauce in the house, I suggest you use just one tablespoon of that instead.
Spaghetti alle Vongole (quantity for 2 portions)
- 500g vongole (clams)
- olive oil
- 1 clove garlic (chopped finely)
- 2 -3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 60ml (generous splash) white wine
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh red chilli
- 1 tablespoon of homemade tomato pasta sauce (optional)
- 250g spaghetti
- The most important thing about cooking clams is to ensure they have ‘purged’ themselves of any sand that may be inside their shell. When we buy our clams, they are sold in a bag of filtered seawater, and I usually leave them inside there until I’m ready to use them. While I prefer to buy clams the day I intend to cook them, if you do buy them the day before, you can store them in the fridge. Wrap them in a damp tea-towel, and put them in a bowl for the night. Save the water they came in though and let them sit in it again one last time as you are preparing ingredients etc. for the recipe. Throw away any clams that have a broken shell. Wash them under running water before you put them into the pan.
- For the spaghetti, bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to the boil.
- Using a large, deep frying pan, add a splash of olive oil (about 3-4 tablespoons), garlic, and chilli pepper. Cook gently on a medium low heat to flavour the Olive Oil, and avoid burning the garlic.
- Add the clams to the frying pan and cover. Increase flame to high and cook until they open… about 5 minutes, depending on size of the clams. Remove from the heat immediately to avoid overcooking the delicate meat of the clams. Using tongs, remove clams from the frying pan, leaving juices behind. (Discard any clams that haven’t opened).
- Add spaghetti to boiling water and set timer for half of required cooking time.
- Bring juices from clams to the boil, add the tablespoon of pasta sauce, half the amount of parsley and a generous splash of white wine. Combine well.
- Add the pasta when the timer goes off, conserving about a cup of the pasta water. The rest of the cooking time for the pasta will be completed in the frying pan with the juices.
- Cook on high to cook the pasta but also to reduce juices to a ‘creamy’ sauce that will lightly coat the spaghetti. (The ‘creaminess’ comes from the starch in the pasta). If it becomes dry, add a small amount of pasta water, a little at a time (like adding stock when you make risotto), until the spaghetti is cooked.
- Toss through clams and remaining freshly chopped parsley.
- Serve immediately with some thick slices of Italian bread, heated and toasty from the oven. Bread is essential to mop up any remaining juices on your plate, to ‘fare la scarpetta’ as they say in Italy.