One of our favorite meals when we go “home” to Italy is my mother-in-law’s Linguine with Clam Sauce. Hers is by far the best I’ve ever had. It is light on sauce, since it really is only olive oil and clam juice, heavy on flavor and tastes just like the sea.

Let’s see how she works her magic!

The most important thing is to get very fresh clams. Get to know your fishmonger, find out when the clams come in, that is the day to make your linguine! I talk again and again about quality and freshness of ingredients. Nowhere is this more important than with seafood.

What kind of clams should you get? Unfortunately, where I live we don’t have the benefit of a large variety of clams, but in Naples, it’s fantastic. The best is a mix of vongole veraci, which look very similar to the clams we get here in the states, and vongole lupini, which are these lovely little clams. It take a lot to make a good sauce, but they have so much flavor, it is totally worth it. I would say at least 2 pounds of clams for 4-6 people. You want everyone to have some actual clams in their dish, not just the flavor from the juice.

Once you have your clams, you want to take them out of the bag and check them. Wash them by rubbing them together under fresh water, to get rid of any sand that may be on the outside of the shells and to wash off the water from the fish market. Pull out and throw away any that are open or have cracked shells.

Once you’ve got lovely, clean, closed little clams, put them in a saute’ pan you have a lid for, turn the heat on medium low and cover them. You are basically steaming them open. They’ll have a ton of juice in them and that’s your flavor! Stir them around until they are all open. It won’t take long. Any that don’t open should be tossed.

You can see in this last picture how much juice they expel. That is all your flavor, so don’t let it evaporate. As soon as those puppies open, turn off the burner and remove your pan from the heat. I recommend dumping everything into a cool container of some kind. When they’ve cooled a bit, remove the clams from their shells and put into a small bowl. You can leave a few in the shell to garnish your plates. Your tablemates will thank you for saving them from having to shell every single clam. Then, take some cheese cloth (I use cotton or a cloth) and filter the clam juice into another container to remove any bits of broken shell, sand etc. that might feel gritty under tooth. Trust me, one bit of sand can totally ruin a beautiful plate of pasta. Set this filtered juice aside for later. You’ll see Angela filters her juice directly into the pan. I don’t recommend doing this unless you have a very steady hand, just to avoid any sandy bits escaping your cotton or cheese cloth.

 

Start heating your water for the pasta. Use a big pot, add about 2 tbs of coarse sea salt and cover until it comes to a rolling boil. Meanwhile, on to the sauce!

Add a good amount of extra virgin olive oil to a large pan, 4-5 tbs. and heat over a medium flame. Peel and smash a couple cloves of garlic and add to the pan. Let this sauté until slightly browned, then remove from the pan. Garlic left too long in a pan becomes bitter and can ruin a sauce. Cut 2-3 cherry tomatoes in half and place cut side down in the pan, cover them to let them simmer just for a minute or two. Remove the lid and smash them with a wooden spoon to release their juices into the sauce (Careful! They may spatter a bit.)

                         

When your tomatoes are quite cooked through add your shelled clams and the filtered juice to the pan. Follow this with just a splash of dry white wine. Stir this to mix all the flavors and let it simmer for a minute or two to burn off the alcohol.

  

At this point, your water should be boiling, so add your linguine (about 100g per person) to the pot and follow the timing on the package for al dente pasta. Stir so it doesn’t stick. Pull out just a cup full or so of pasta water, just in case your pasta is a little dry after adding the sauce, then drain when done (probably about 8 minutes, depending on the brand of pasta you are using. That will be less if it’s fresh pasta).

Here comes the magic part. Put your drained pasta directly in the sauce pan – this is why you need a BIG pan. Tossing your pasta in the pan with the sauce allows all the flavors to soak into the pasta. Add in your clams in the shell and serve, being sure to add some of the juice over the top as well. Sprinkle on some chopped parsley and voila’! Pure heaven.

                                               

I highly recommend serving this with some crusty Italian bread to soak up all the wonderful juice at the end. My father-in-law is the official bread cutter, and he does a bang up job!

Because this was a truly Italian lunch, after the bounty that was this pasta dish, we obviously had room for a second course of grilled shrimp and fresh green salad from my in-laws’ garden. It’s a wonder I didn’t gain 10  pounds that trip.

Buon appetito!

Linguine with Clam Sauce.

Classic Italian dish of Linguine with clams. 

Cuisine Italian
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds of clams
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil to a large pan
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 small cherry tomatoes
  • splash of dry white wine
  • 500 g linguine
  • chopped parsley

Instructions

  1. Check all of your clams and wash them by rubbing them together under fresh water, to get rid of any sand that may be on the outside of the shells and to wash off the water from the fish market. Pull out and throw away any that are open or have cracked shells.

  2. Put clams in a roomy saute' pan you have a lid for, turn the heat on medium low and cover them to steam open. Stir occasionally until they are all open. Any that don't open should be tossed.

  3. As soon as clams are open, turn off the burner and remove your pan from the heat to cool.

  4. Remove the clams from their shells and put into a small bowl. Set aside.

  5. Use cheese cloth to filter the clam juice into another container to remove any bits of broken shell, sand etc. that might feel gritty under tooth. Set aside.

  6. Heat a big pot of water, add about 2 tbs of coarse sea salt and cover until it comes to a rolling boil.

  7. Add your linguine to the pot and follow the timing on the package for al dente pasta. Stir so it doesn't stick. Pull out just a cup full or so of pasta water, just in case your pasta is a little dry after adding the sauce, then drain when done

  8. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a large pan over a medium flame.

  9. Peel and smash 2 cloves of garlic and add to the pan. Let this sauté until slightly browned, then remove from the pan.

  10. Cut cherry tomatoes in half and place cut side down in the pan, cover to let them simmer just for a minute or two. Remove the lid and smash them with a wooden spoon to release their juices into the sauce.

  11. When your tomatoes are quite cooked through add your shelled clams and the filtered juice to the pan.
  12. Add a splash of dry white wine. Stir this to mix all the flavors and let it simmer for a minute or two to burn off the alcohol.

  13. Put your drained pasta directly in the sauce pan.

  14. Toss pasta in the pan with the sauce allowing all the flavors to soak into the pasta. Add in your clams in the shell and serve, being sure to add some of the juice over the top as well. Sprinkle on some chopped parsley. Serve hot.