My last class was about classic Italian dish, lasagna. All that talk about lasagna got me thinking about my other favorite Italian dishes. Well, the one dish that kept coming into my mind was spaghetti alle vongole. What is it? Literally translated from the Italian, it is spaghetti with clams. There are two versions of this dish, in bianco and in rosso. In bianco is the version I will be teaching you today, the in rosso is the same but with the addition of basil and tomatoes. Spaghetti alle vongole is fantastically satisfying with the brininess and chew of the clams, the play of the garlic and white wine and of course the comfort of the spaghetti. I know that once you make this dish it will become one of your favorites.
Before I get into the recipe I want to talk clams and clam juice. This recipe calls for little neck clams. They are small and tender and you get seven to ten clams to a pound. You want a smaller clam so that they open quickly when cooked. They are also sweeter than the larger varieties. Remember if you buy a clam and it is open, tap it on the counter, if it closes use it, if it does not, throw it out.
This recipe calls for live clams, clam juice and minced clams. Go ahead and buy canned minced clams and jarred clam juice. They are perfectly acceptable and will save you a lot of time and money.
Now, let’s get cooking!
This recipe will serve two people. You will need: twelve little neck clams, ½ pound spaghetti, one cup clam juice, ½ cup minced clams, ½ cup chardonnay, one tablespoon finely minced garlic, one tablespoon unsalted butter, one teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, two tablespoons olive oil, juice of one lemon, ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, ¼ cup grated Parmesan, salt, pepper, a stockpot, a large sauté pan with a lid, colander, knife, tongs, wooden spoon and two large bowls.
The first thing you are going to do is to fill your stockpot with water. Next add a generous amount of salt. Remember, this is the only chance you will get to season the pasta. Put the salted water over medium-high heat and let it come to a boil.
While it is coming to a boil, you will start on your sauce. In the large sauté pan add in: clam juice, minced clams (drained well), chardonnay, garlic, butter, olive oil, red pepper flakes and lemon juice. Turn your heat to medium and cook uncovered until the ingredients come to a simmer.
While that is cooking, drop your spaghetti into the boiling water and cook until al dente. Once it is cooked, drain in a colander, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water.
Once your ingredients are at a simmer in the pan, let them cook for one minute. This allows the alcohol to cook out of the wine. Remember to use a wine that you would drink. If you use a less than delicious wine, you will end up with a less than delicious sauce. If you do not wish to use wine, you can substitute low sodium chicken stock. After it has cooked for a minute, add in your little neck clams and put the lid on the pan. Cook covered until the clams open, about two minutes. Once they are open, remove them from the pan with tongs and place them in a bowl.
Now is the time you add your cooked spaghetti into the pan. Keep the heat at medium and also add in the chopped thyme. Stir well.
At this point if you want the sauce thinner you can add in some of the reserved pasta water. Once the spaghetti is well coated with the sauce, add in the Parmesan. Taste your pasta and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer your spaghetti and sauce to a large bowl and top with the cooked clams.
But wait, what is pasta without some killer garlic bread? Here is my favorite way to make garlic bread. You will need: one French baguette cut lengthwise down the middle, a small bowl, two tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, two tablespoons olive oil, juice of ½ a lemon, ½ teaspoon sweet chili, one tablespoon granulated garlic and ½ pound mozzarella thinly sliced. Set your oven to broil. In the bowl combine the butter, olive oil, lemon juice, granulated garlic and sweet chili. Spread this generously on each half of the baguette. Put in oven and cook until it is golden brown. Remove and top with the thinly sliced mozzarella and go back into the oven until the cheese is melted. Serve hot.
There you have it, spaghetti alle vongole and killer garlic bread. Make my version or add in some tomatoes and basil and try it in rosso. Also, switch up the pasta and try it with fettucine or linguine.
Remember, as with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you’ll never forget.
Chef Flowers has over 25 years of fine cuisine experience. The former Executive Chef at Top of The Market, San Diego, also owned Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, named a top 25 restaurant in Arizona. He was also Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona, the AAA Four-Diamond, Four Star award winning restaurant. Flowers has created extraordinary cuisine for some of the finest restaurants in Arizona, including T. Cooks at Scottsdale's Royal Palms Resort and the Phoenician's Mary Elaine's and Different Pointe of View.