Spaghetti Alle Vongole
Long thin strands of semolina-sweet pasta with clams is one of the great suppers of all time. There is one proviso: the sauce must be “in bianco,” that’s to say, unsullied with tomato. You do need to find those small Manila or littleneck clams, but that can mostly be done with relative ease. And like all treats, it doesn’t have to be eaten often, but for me it has to feature high on any true compilation of desert island dishes.
Total Timeunder 1 hour
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Taste and Texturehot & spicy, light, salty, savory
Type of Dishdry pasta, pasta
- 2 cups small clams, such as Manila or littlenecks
- 5oz spaghetti
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dried red chilli pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup white wine or vermouth (Noilly Prat for choice)
- 1-2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Put the clams to soak in a sinkful of cold water, while you heat the water for the pasta. When the water comes to the boil, add salt and then the spaghetti. Cook the spaghetti until nearly but not quite ready: you’re going to give it a fractional amount more cooking with the clams and their winey juices so you need to leave room for absorption. Try and time this so that the pasta’s ready at the time you want to plunge it into the clams. Otherwise drain and douse with a few drops of olive oil.
Mince, grate or finely slice the garlic and, in a pan with a lid into which you can fit the pasta later, fry it gently (it mustn’t burn) in the olive oil and then crumble in the red chilli pepper flakes. Drain the clams, discarding those that remain open, and add the closed ones to the garlic pan. Pour over the wine or vermouth and cover. In 2 minutes, the clams should be open. Add the pasta, put the lid on again and swirl about. In another minute or so everything should have finished cooking and come together: the pasta will have cooked to the requisite tough tenderness and absorbed the salty, garlicky, winey clam juices, and be bound in a wonderful sea-syrup. But if the pasta needs more cooking, clamp on the lid and give it more time. Chuck out any clams that have failed to open.
Add half the parsley, shake the pan to distribute evenly, and turn into a plate or bowl and sprinkle over the rest of the parsley. Cheese is not grated over any pasta with fish in it in Italy (nor indeed where garlic is the predominant ingredient, either) and the rule holds good. You need add nothing. It’s perfect as it is. If perfection can be improved upon, however, the thing that will do it is a glass of icy cold and flinty white wine or an almost-freezing beer to be drunk alongside.
2004 Nigella Lawson