Here’s the IDEAL recipe for spaghetti alle vongole: the best spaghetti with clams, chilli and garlic.
With summer in full swing and the finest palourde clams currently abundant, there feels no more appropriate dish to celebrate the season than Spaghetti alle Vongole – clams with spaghetti, chilli and garlic.
One of Italy’s greatest bowlfuls, its simple majesty gets us every time; briny clams, freshly cooked, the crisp acidity of white wine, a little chilli and garlic heat, and a slippery emulsified sauce of clam juice clinging to strands of pasta…during summer we could live off the stuff.
And all of this can be made in the time it takes to boil your pasta.
Though it’s certainly a simple dish to prepare, the line between the good and the great is minuscule. We’re here for the latter today; we only want the best Spaghetti alle Vongole recipe out there. With that in mind, here are 7 top tips for cooking the best spaghetti alle vongole: the IDEAL spaghetti with clams, chilli and garlic recipe.
THE PURGING OF SAND & SINS
Before you do anything, you’re going to need to prepare your clams. As we’re sure you know, clams can accumulate rather a lot of sand, which can end up in the bottom of your pasta bowl and between your teeth if you don’t take precautionary steps before cooking.
We’re going to purge our clams of sand around an hour before cooking them, by sitting them in lightly salted (some use flour), cool tap water, in the fridge. The clams will take in some of the water, and spit out all that sand nestled in their shells. All you have to do is drain the water and wash all that sand away. There might also be some sand nestled in the crevices of the clam shell; giving them a gentle scrub should remove it.
If you have any clams which are open here, and resolutely refusing to shut after being tapped lightly, then discard them. They’re dead and shouldn’t be eaten. Likewise, if any shells are cracked or broken, chuck them. There’s no point taking any risks here.
You’ll need around 200g of purged clams (we’re using palourde, sometimes called carpet shell) per person.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT PASTA
Yep, we realise we’ve already said spaghetti several times and the pasta chosen has defined the name of the dish. That said, linguini would be equally appropriate here. Just select a good quality dried spaghetti or linguini with a rough exterior; the small blemishes and imperfect surface are key to holding onto your sauce.
We’re going for dried here as it’s easier to achieve that all important al dente finish. What’s more, the dried stuff tends to be starchier, which is essential in such a seemingly sparse dish, for creating a sauce.
So, put a pan of water to a strong rolling boil, season it to be as salty as the sea. Gather roughly 100 grams of dried spaghetti per person, ready to submerge soon.
Some use fresh chilli, some use dried. Some daredevils use both. Though we adore the spicy kick of capsicum in just about anything, we’re not simply throwing it in for the sake of it. There’s nowhere to hide with this dish, so every element must be carefully considered.
But we do love the interplay between smoky, dried chilli and fruity, fresh stuff here, so we’re including both, added at different stages to emphasise their inherent, unique qualities.
To prepare (per person) crush a couple of dried bird’s eye chillis in a pestle and mortar, and thinly slice one fresh red bird’s eye chilli, too.
Garlic is essential to this Spaghetti alle Vongole recipe, perfuming the oil and in turn, the clams, and adding depth, pungency and umami to the emulsified sauce. We’re going to be cooking everything last minute here, with screaming hot oil. Crushed or finely chopped garlic will burn quickly under such conditions, so for the best Spaghetti alle Vongole, it’s traditional to instead thinly slice your garlic.
So, thinly slice two garlic cloves per person.
WHAT ABOUT WINE?
White wine brings acidity to the dish, standing up succinctly to the briny clams and combining with the pasta water and your spicy, garlicky oil in an event of pure alchemy to create your sauce. You don’t need much, since you want the alcohol to burn off quickly. A dry Pinot Grigio is perfect here.
Pour around 25ml of Pinot Grigio per person ready for cooking. Enjoy a glass yourself if you’re so inclined.
A POT WITH A LID & BRINY BATHTIME
To cook your clams and combine your sauce, you’ll want a pan with a tightly fitting lid. Go find one. Go.
With your pasta water boiling, it’s time to begin cooking.
Submerge 100 grams of dried spaghetti per person in your boiling, salted water, timing around six minutes.
‘Alexa, set a timer for six minutes’.
Your pasta should need around 8 minutes (check out the packet for detailed instructions) to cook to al dente, but we’re going to finish the cooking of the pasta in the clam pot.
Place your other pan on a high heat, and add a good glug of olive oil (around two tablespoons per person). When the oil is hot, add the 2 crushed dried chillis and your 2 sliced garlic cloves. Allow them to cook for around 30 seconds, but not to colour.
Then, add your 25ml of white white, and your cleaned, purged clams to the pot. Attach your tight fitting lid and give it a shake. Wait for a couple of minutes for alchemy to begin.
Once all of your clams have started to open, discard any which haven’t; they’re no good to you. Then, using a pair of tongs, lift your half cooked pasta into the clam pot, along with a good ladleful of starchy pasta water. This will allow the pasta to really soak up the delicious sauce.
Continue to cook until the pasta is al dente and the pasta water has emulsified with the wine and garlicky, spicy olive oil mixture. A few shakes of the pot will help to combine the sauce into a homogenous unit. Check the sauce; it should be salty already, but add more salt if it needs it.
Some add a few cubes of unsalted butter here, to create a more luscious sauce.
It’s time to serve. Traditionally, parsley would adorn this dish, but we (heresy, we accept) love coriander with our Spagehtti alle Vongole, equally.
Run your knife gentle through a handful of parsley and coriander and top your bowl of pasta with the herbs and your freshly sliced red chilli. Add parmesan at risk of offending folk, or enjoy as nature and Italy intended, without it.
THE RECIPE FOR THE IDEAL SPAGHETTI ALLE VONGOLE
Serves one (just multiply the amounts to suit your table).
- 100 grams of dried spaghetti
- 200g of purged clams
- 2 dried bird’s eye chillis, crushed
- 1 fresh red bird’s eye chilli
- 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 25 ml white wine (a dry Pinot Grigio is ideal)
- A handful of parsley or coriander
- A few cubes of cold, unsalted butter
- Put a pan of water onto a strong rolling boil, and season it to be as salty as the sea. Add your pasta to the boiling water, and time around 6 minutes.
- Put a deep frying pan with a tightly fitting lid onto a hot flame or stove and add 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Add the dried bird’s eye chillis and sliced garlic to the oil and cook for thirty seconds, making sure not to colour.
- Add your purged clams and white white to the same pan, attach the lid and give it a good shake. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes until they open, and discard any which don’t.
- After around six minutes of your pasta boiling, using a pair of tongs, lift your part cooked pasta into the clam pot, along with a good ladleful of starchy pasta water.
- Continue to cook until the pasta is al dente but cooked through, and the pasta water has emulsified with the wine and garlicky, spicy olive oil mixture. A few shakes of the pot will help to combine the sauce into a homogenous unit. Check the sauce; it should be nicely seasoned already, but add more salt if it needs it.
- If using, add your cubed butter to the pan and shake to emulsify off the heat.
- Top with herbs and enjoy with a cold glass of white wine.