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Making spaghetti and clams, need a perfect simple recipe

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I'm making spaghetti and clams tomorrow for the first time. We had a wonderful version recently in Italy. Seemed pretty much just garlic, terrific olive oil, clams and parsley. Anyone know a great recipe that sounds kind of like that?

A few other questions. I got the clams today in Bensonhurst. They are not as tiny as the ones we had in our pasta in Italy, but they're pretty small. I think they are small enough that I can just serve them in the pasta (which my 3 yo daughter will love.) Since I've never cooked live clams before, I'm really worried about accidentally cooking a dead clam. How can you tell if it's dead? So far, they are all closed tight in the bowl in the fridge. But I read on the internet that if you tap it on the counter and it doesn't close, it's dead. But how can it close if it's already closed? Are they just saying that if one is open, this is how you test if it's dead? I'd think if one was open I wouldn't take the gamble anyway. Sorry if I'm being naive about this.

One final question -- I wanted to cook them tonight but my husband is out for the evening. so I have them in a bowl in the fridge with some damp paper towels on top. Is that a good way to store them?

Thanks for any help you can provide on this!!

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  1. not my specialty, but I do it simply, and found (the hard way) that I needed to add some clam juice or stock... some added liquid. So... lightly saute some sliced garlic in EVOO, add juice or stock, add some fresh lemon juice and parsley, some S&P, then add the clams and cover/simmer. If they're closed in the fridge, they're ok, if open and dont close when tapped, discard. If they do not open in the pan (they will open roughly within a minute of each other), then discard. Wash those clams first, btw. Do the pasta al dente, drain, and add to the pan, and turn over several times. It will absorb the flavors of the sauce. a little fresh parsley on top. good... maybe grate some parmesan on there, too.

    1. I second the necessity of added liquid flavoring. Clam juice is good but be careful with salt then; white wine would be great. Saffron is always lovely in seafood type dishes and you should try it at least once; just add a little bit, it should be a background flavor. Your storage is perfect, never store clams in water. If your clams' mouths open before you cook them, do the pressing thing.

      1. Key is to first soak your clams for a few hours in VERY cold water with a bit of corn meal. This will cause the clams to spit (as they do to breath) and remove excess sand. then saute some garlic and shallots in olive oil, hit with some white wine and clam juice (get a bottled version) then add clams and reduce down a bit with lid on, to burn off the alcohol and allow the clams to open completely. Add some chopped parsley, fresh thyme, and maybe a little crushed red pepper (add some canned whole tomatoes crushed up with your hands for red, maybe add some leaks). Finish off with some raw butter to thicken the sauce a bit (remove from heat first).
        also, clams that are open should just be squeezed together to see if they stay closed. If so, they're alive. If not, they're dead. If they are cracked, throw them out! Over tonight, store them in a bowl packed with a bag FULL of ice near the blower of your fridge.

        3 Replies
        1. re: BBKink

          Here is one I adapted, don't remember where the original came from: But it's so easy and delicious.

          Spaghetti Alla Vongole (spaghetti & clams)

          320g Spaghetti (I use 1 box barilla)
          50 Clams (if they are tiny, but less is they are larger)
          6 tablespoons Chopped Flat-Leaf Parsley
          4 tablespoons Chopped Garlic
          3 tablespoons Chopped Red Chilli's (I used red pepper flakes)

          300ml Dry White Italian Wine (I used 1&1/4 cup)
          200ml Olive Oil (I used 3/4 cup)

          In boiling salted water cook the spaghetti.
          Place the clams in a bowl with the red pepper flakes, garlic, parsley, olive oil & the white wine.
          Place your saucepan on the heat & get nice & hot, add the clams etc to the oil mixture & cover with the lid.
          Cook the clams till they just open about 3 to 4 minutes, the olive oil & the white wine will form a sauce, toss in the hot spaghetti, which should be cooked but still al dente. Add a spoonful or two of the pasta water if you like a more liquid sauce.

          Serve with crusty bread.

          You can also make a mix of toasted coarse bread-crumbs & chopped parsley to sprinkle over the top right before serving, if desired.


          1. re: mcel215

            Didn't know there was an actual recipe like this out there. This is how I have always eaten it as a child; follow the cornmeal and clams for purging suggestion. It works.

          2. re: BBKink

            yes, YES! the wine... the crushed red pepper... the butter... ahhh...

          3. Just agreeing with others here - the key for me is steaming the clams first with white wine, shallots, garlic, chili flakes, and olive oil to produce a flavorful clam-infused broth, and then adding slightly undercooked pasta to finish cooking in the this sauce. Finally I toss it all with chopped parsley and a bit of lemon zest.

            My first time making this was a couple of years ago after input from the 'Hounds on perfecting this dish - link below to report and pic:


            1. If you purchase clams, it is rare to get a "mudder" or dead clam. When the die, they open. If they are tightly closed, usually alive. If you put them is a bowl of water and stir , a "mudder" will usually break open. Usually the clams stay tightly closed. I have been making white clam sauce for many years, and find that canned clams are fine. Many restaurants will use canned for the sauce, and garnish with whole clams. If you make a lot of clam sauce, there is a clam base that is very good to add flavor. Minor's is one brand, and Smart & Final carries its own brand.

              1 Reply
              1. re: OldTimer

                I always add a can of chopped clams to my linguini with clam sauce.

                Doesn't anybody ever make RED sauce with clams?

                PS: I now use parmesano or romano on my claim spaghetti after Jacques Pepin said his wife did it and now he does, too. He's right!

              2. i hope it's not too late to give you this advice - my dad makes a fantastic linguine alla vongole. it's very similar to what's been mentioned except that he steams the clams in a small amount of water first. if you are using little neck clams, even after purging them with corn meal or pepper they will still contain some sand.
                steam them in a small amount of water (lid on) until they are wide open. don't overcook. then, remove the clams. take the liquid in the pot and strain it through a cheese cloth. that liquid will be used later in the sauce.
                little necks, which i suspect you have (grey tough shells?) should be removed from the shells and chopped into bite size pieces. they are tough and you don't want to choke or chew too much while eating the pasta.
                meanwhile add olive oil and chopped garlic to a heavy pan (do not brown). add white wine and clam juice and let simmer. after the wine has reduced (it no longer tastes of alcohol) add the whole mixture to a blender to emulsify it.
                after blending thoroughly so that you have very little oil separation, add the liquid back to the pan and add lots of finely chopped parsley. after the parsley has cooked for a bit, add the chopped clams and let them cook shortly in the sauce.
                meanwhile you have a very large pot of salted water boiling. when the sauce is ready it is now safe to add the pasta (or add before you add the clams and keep the sauce off heat). mix the al dente pasta and clam sauce in a warm bowl, reserving extra sauce for individual servings.

                1. In all of your experience, what would be a typical live/dead clam ratio? I made linguine and clams tonight using 2 dozen littlenecks and 5 did not open. That's about 20% dead which seems a bit high to me.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Philly Ray

                    Wow, that is high. I rarely have one dead one in a group of 20.

                  2. Lots of good advice here. A novel approach which I picked up from Lydia Bastianich, is to use uncooked clams. After determing that they are alive put the clams in the freezer fro twenty minutes. Then shuck them, being careful to do so over a bowl so as to catch every drip of juice. Don't rinse the clams. Chop them, strain the juice, and add to the sauce about two minutes before serving. Radically good.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ebethsdad

                      ooh, that does sound good. i am not good at shucking though.

                      1. re: fara

                        Freezing them makes a huge difference. I just did this last night. Definitely clammy!