This is a classic Italian American dish, but it’s also a dish that is eaten in Italy, especially in the summer. Spaghetti alle vongole (pronounced [spaˈɡetti alle ˈvoŋɡole]), Italian for spaghetti with clams, is a dish that is very popular throughout Italy, especially in Campania (where it is part of the traditional Neapolitan cuisine).
Italians usually prepare this dish two ways: in Bianco, i.e., with oil, garlic, parsley, and sometimes a splash of white wine; and in Rosso, like the Bianco but with tomatoes and fresh basil, the addition of tomatoes being more frequent in the south. Traditionally, the clams in their shells are cooked quickly in hot olive oil to which plenty of garlic has been added. The live clams open during cooking, releasing a liquid that adds flavor to the dish. The clams are then added to the al dente cooked pasta (spaghetti, linguine, or vermicelli), along with salt, black pepper (or red pepper), and a handful of finely chopped parsley.
In the Liguria region of Italy, east of Genoa, Spaghetti alle vongole (veraci) means spaghetti with tiny baby clams in the shell, no more than the size of a thumbnail, with a white wine/garlic sauce. Linguine also may be used for the pasta in preference to spaghetti.
Italian-American recipes sometimes use cream in this dish, but in its area of origin, this would be considered a big “no no”. In America cheese is sometimes added to this dish, although Italians believe it overpowers the simple flavors of the clams and of good quality olive oil.
My version is simple and allows the flavor of the clams to be the star. My fish market sells the fresh clams shucked and I usually buy these on the day I am going to make this dish. Much easier to eat if you don’t have to deal with the shells. Just a matter of preference, though.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup white wine
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dry oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pint of shucked clams with their liquid or 3 dozen littleneck clams
8 cups hot cooked linguine or spaghetti (about 1 pound uncooked pasta)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook al dente. Drain.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in clams with their juice and all the remaining ingredients except for the pasta. Cook just until the mixture is hot, about 2-3 minutes
If using clams in the shell – Cover and cook 10 minutes or until the clams open.
Place pasta in a large serving bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil; toss well to coat. Add clam mixture to the pasta; toss well. Serve with a green salad and Italian bread.