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Spaghetti and Clam Sauce

I order spaghetti and white clam sauce all the time but have never made it. I am planning on making it this week and have been looking up recipes. Marcella Hazans recipe has no butter, but when I order it, I always taste lots of butter. What is the most traditional formula ( my guess is Marcella is traditional and what I order is not). Also, what are your favorite recipes for this dish.

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  1. Our family favorite is from Craig Claiborne's NY Times Cookbook --- very simple, very fabulous for a canned clams recipe.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Sarah

      Could you post the Claiborne recipe here? I just googled it and couldn't find the recipes, just mentions of how good and simple it is.

      1. re: AhhTahoe

        I have a copy of Claiborne's NEW NY Times cookbook (copyright 1995),and the only spaghetti with clams recipe in it calls for fresh clams, not canned. I've never made it but it looks great - thanks for giving me a reason to look it up!

        It's actually a spicy version, Spaghetti alla Puttanesca con Vongole. I'll paraphrase it (required by site rules when posting recipes).

        1/4 cup olive oil
        1 tbsp minced garlic
        4 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes
        1/3 cup chopped parsley
        2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
        1 tsp dried oregano
        1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
        2 tbsp drained capers
        18 black olives, pitted
        2 2-oz cans flat anchovies
        24 littleneck clams, the smaller the better
        1 lb spaghetti

        Heat oil in heavy pan and add garlic. Cook 30 seconds (do not brown), then add the tomatoes, herbs (reserving half the parsley), capers and olives.

        Cook, stirring often, over medium high heat for about 25 minutes. While this is cooking, drain and chop the anchovies and wash the clams.

        When the 25 minutes is up, add the anchovies and remaining parsley. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.

        Put the clams in the pan and cover tightly. Cook five minutes or until all the clams have opened. Serve with al dente spaghetti.

        1. re: BobB

          I tried this with a few changes and it is good but to me it isn't the white clam sauce I know and love. too much going on. But it is a good pasta.

        2. re: AhhTahoe

          White Clam Sauce (about 4 cups)
          1/4 c butter (I use less)
          1 large clove garlic, minced
          2 Tb flour
          2 c clam juice (1 bottle + from canned clams)
          1/4 c chopped parsley
          s&p to taste
          1-1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
          2 c minced clams, fresh or canned (save juice)
          Heat butter in saucepan, add garlic and cook 30 sec. over med heat. Whisk in flour and stir while adding clam juice.
          Add parsley, s,p and thyme and simmer gently 10 mins. Add clams to heat through. Serve over linguine. Enjoy!

          1. re: Sarah

            My Mom would make this- and I hated it as a kid. She always used canned.
            Love it now-thanks for sharing your recipe.

            1. re: Boccone Dolce

              I thought it was a family favorite!! Guess I'm gonna have to beat the truth out of the "kids."

        3. re: Sarah

          That's what we make... both his white and his red. For the white one, tho, I often use fresh clams.

          It's not in the NEW New York Times Cookbook, it's in the original.

          1. re: ChefJune

            I have never tried making the red -- does the clam flavor come through? With the white, I've only used canned -- how many fresh clams do you use instead?

            1. re: Sarah

              yes, the clam flavor definitely comes through with the tomatoes in this recipe.

              When I use fresh, I like a couple of pounds. and plenty of freshly chopped parsley and garlic chives. ;)

              1. re: ChefJune

                Agreed, the flavor is equally as good, just a bit different than white. My ex liked red and me white. Usually, sometimes we reversed. But yep, I like the red, but prefer the white.

        4. I make pasta and white clam sauce often. But I use fresh clams. And butter, butter, butter. One of the key things is lots of chopped Italian (flat-leaved) parsley, and lotsa garlic. Occasionally I'll add some finely diced, sauteed hot pepper.

          1. I don't have a recipe, but was taught by my Italian MIL and it's delicious! I saute sliced garlic(3-4 large cloves) in olive oil over medium heat in a large, wide pot. Add red pepper flakes to taste. Remove garlic pieces (lightly browned) and add 2 dozen well-scrubbed small clams to the pot with about 1 cup of white wine. Cover and steam until clams just open. Pull them out and place in a dish to cool slightly. Remove clam from shell, discarding shells. Strain the broth from the pot through a coffee filter to remove any grit. Add clams (chopped if they're large) and garlic to broth. Finish with a large handful of chopped parsley, more red pepper to taste, and a glug of olive oil. Serve with al dente linguine (or spaghetti in your case) - it's so delicious!

            1. I use Marcella's recipe - have for years and love it. I've never had this dish w/ butter, and couldn't eat it if it did. There are some good threads about this dish from a year or so ago I think. Can try to dig them up for you if you like.

              4 Replies
                1. re: MMRuth

                  thanks! my guess is when I order it, it is not authentic. Looking forward to trying Marcellas recipe, she has not led me wrong yet!

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    I can't recall eating spaghetti w/clams made with butter, but I do vividly remember eating some of the best sauteed clams of my life at the home of a friend in Paris, cooked by his Italian wife. Her secret? Cooking them in butter, not oil. I was shocked - an Italian using buttter in place of olive oil? - but man, were they good!

                    Although when I think about it, we always dip steamers in melted butter - clams and butter are a great combination.

                    1. re: BobB

                      Butter is generally used more in the northern Italian provences, and olive oil in the southern. It's a matter of the the differences in the Italian geography. The southern climate and landscpe is more conducive to growing olive trees, and in the north there's more dairy.

                  2. Mine has butter, it doesn't come out of any known cook book but from a friend who was born and raised in Italy. This was his Moms recipe. Now very often she couldn't get fresh clams and used clams and so has he, but when he can, he uses fresh clams.

                    1 lb linguini; 2-3 cans 7 or 8 oz; 1 medium onion chopped fine; 6 teaspoons of garlic minced; 1/3 cup white wine; 1/3 cup clam juice; 1/3 cup olive oil (he says extra virgin makes all the difference); 2 tablespoons butter; 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes; 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano not fresh; 1/3 cup chopped parsley.

                    Cook pasta while you saute the onion garlic and oregano and pepper flakes in the olive oil and butter. Add the wine and clam juice and reduce slightly. Add the clams, fresh parsley and toss.

                    1. Mine is almost exactly like KChurchhill's, minus the onion and oregano. I love the simple flavors and the combination of fruity olive oil and butter. When I can, I use fresh clams. Sometimes Whole Foods has chopped fresh clams, and I substitute those for canned. If I'm using clams in their shells, I steam them with chopped garlic and use the strained broth instead of the clam juice. This is one of my favorite dishes, even when I have to use canned clams. (And I always commit the faux pas of sprinkling fresh grated parmesan over the finished dish.)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: nomadchowwoman

                        I sometimes make with a small shallot just for a little flavor instead of the onion, depends on my quests and I like oregano, but not everyone does. I have made it without the oregano and it is equally as good.

                        Yep, my local grocery store often has fresh shucked clams as my fish market and I love it. But canned works fine when that's all there is.

                        It is the best isn't it. Simple flavors. I like to grate a little parm but not everyone does, just me. Crunchy grilled bread and a few good slices of fresh tomato with balsamic, s/p and nothing more. Heaven.

                        Now I'm going to have to make it this week.

                        1. re: kchurchill5

                          Told DH last night after reading these posts that today's errand for him would be a trip to WF for fresh chopped clams. The parsley in my garden is about to go, so we'll make sure its last supper is a good one! And you are right on, the tomatoes I bought at the farmers market will be the perfect side. Thanks for the inspiration.

                      2. Made it last night, following Marcella's recipe exactly. So GOOD. and easy. then I brought my Marcella book to bed and read it under the covers, figuring out what recipes i have not made from it that I want to try.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: cassoulady

                          Have you seen the COTM threads for her book - it was the first one we did, and I think a lot of people posted initially lists of recipes they had made before and liked.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            I have! I have made most of the pasta recipes, some of the meat - not many of the veggies, salads or fish and none of the desserts.I will have to plan what to do next

                            1. re: cassoulady

                              Though not nec. good for this time of year, I just love her chickpea soup with rosemary and tomatoes. Also the salad with oranges, cucumbers, radishes & mint.

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                I just made chickpea soup the other day. I don't mind a warm soup as long as it isn't a rich meat based soup. I still like warm soups in summer with a light grilled sandwich or fresh sandwich.

                                A nice fresh veggie sandwich grilled with summer time veggies is amazing and then a nice cup of fresh soup and a light side of fresh watermelon or honeydew is great for me.

                                Warm soups with nice side salads that cool are great easy summer dishes.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  That soup sounds wonderful. I can eat chickpeas out of the can with a little salad dressing on them :) I detest cucumbers; would the salad still be good without them?

                                  We're on Cape Cod and I don't have cookbooks here but do have access to clams, of course. I'll look for the recipe for the spaghetti (or was it linguini?) online. Shouldn't waste all those great clams.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Here is another good chick pea soup, it doesn't have tomatoes but a nice lemony flavor which I love for summer. This was given to me by a fellow chef who works now works in NV, but was a native FL boy.

                                    6 cups water and 2 cups dried chickpeas and soaked overnight
                                    1 stalk celery fine chopped (leaves used for the bean cooking)
                                    1 bay leaf
                                    1 branches fresh rosemary to cook the beans
                                    1 teaspoon fresh minced rosemary for the soup
                                    2 cups onions fine diced
                                    3-4 cups vegetable stock or broth
                                    1/4 cup minced garlic
                                    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
                                    3-4 fresh sage leaves
                                    1/4 cup olive oil
                                    s/p to taste

                                    After soaking the chickpeas, rinse and then cook in 6 cups of water with the bay leaf , rosemary branch and sage leaves and the leaves from the celery ribs. Use your favorite method for cooking the beans.
                                    In a large pot add the olive oil to heat and add the onions, diced celery, garlic and cook over low heat to soften.
                                    Drain the chickpeas once done and add to the onion mix along with 3 -4 cups of veggie broth. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or regular blender and add a little extra fresh rosemary, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

                                    1. re: kchurchill5

                                      Oh, yikes, if chickpea soup is all pureed, count me out :( Yuck. I only like them whole. Maybe I didn't understand the concept.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        Understand, I always like them whole until I tried this. I still prefer whole, but this is still a good soup. I eat them all the time on my salads and in just about anything.

                                        I pan saute with garlic, lemon zest, shallot, and olive oil which a great simple side dish and a favorite of mine. Can't get much better.

                          2. The first clam sauce I ever had, made as a collaboration of two friends, was a combination of clams and pesto, and it was deliriously good. It must have been their own invention because I've never seen or heard of anything else like it, but I keep meaning to do one like that. No nuts, I think, and maybe a bit of lemon juice. Or some chopped fresh tomato.

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: Will Owen

                              I made this again last night, following marcellas recipe again. This time, I undercooked the pasta and let it finish cooknig in the clam liquid ( which she said to do though I did not do the first time). It really allowed the pasta to soak up the juices and had an even better flavor. When making the recipe, dont worry that the clams take a bit of time to open and that at first no juices are released, just be patient.

                              1. re: cassoulady

                                Never made hers, but mine and a few others have exactly the same ingredients so I am sure it would be good. It is certainly by far my favorite recipe. And yes the heat of the sauce finishes the pasta all on it's own.

                                1. re: cassoulady

                                  That's why I love Marcella's recipe - I think that technique is key. That way each strand of pasta absorbs the sauce. I first tried hers a few years ago when I was looking for a non-soupy version where the pasta soaks up all the briny-salty flavor of fresh clams (was trying to recreate a vongole dish I had recently had at No. 9 Park), and MMRuth recommended Marcella's recipe.

                                  Pic and report from that first attempt, with tips from helpful 'Hounds:
                                  Update on Spaghetti with Clams

                                  1. re: Rubee

                                    I admit, I never used to finish my pasta by adding it to the pan until just past couple of years. Something learned from the food network. Not sure why I didn't do it before that. Now I do it most of the time and yes, you are right it does soak up the sauce much better.

                                    1. re: kchurchill5

                                      I think there's some confusion, in response to cassoulady above, you said you've never made Marcella's, but that yours has exactly the same ingredients. Don't rule it out for that reason! Actually, it's quite different from yours - tomatoes (though I usually leave them out), fresh basil, fresh clams so no clam juice, no dried oregano, no butter, no onion, etc.

                                      It's a great recipe, you really should try it! She mentions that it's a version from Chef Cesare Benelli at Ristorante al Covo in Venice, Italy. And, of course, it's Marcella Hazan after all ; )

                                      1. re: Rubee

                                        I add clam juice if I have some, if not I don't, I did mention I use fresh clams when available. I only use canned when I don't have fresh. Oregano is optional I think I also mentioned that. and I often use it, but again optional. I said it was very close to BobB with a few changes.Onion was just me. So mostly everything is the same. But I never follow the same recipe every time so it changes

                                        1. re: Rubee

                                          I will add that when cooking the clams, a lot of juice is produced although no liquid is used in the pan. yet another instance where I was looking at the pan thinking " maybe I am doing something wrong" but after a while, all the juices come out, the the clams are reserved, juices strained and then added to the wine to create the sauce. Pasta is finsihed cooking in that liquid and the sauce is soaked into the pasta so it almost disappears.

                                          1. re: cassoulady

                                            You're making me hungry! I love how the pasta soaks up all that fresh steamed clam juice in that recipe. In Boston, we could just walk over to J Hooks and pick up nice fresh clams. Out here in AZ now, it's harder to take care of a seafood craving. Thanks a lot! ; )

                                            1. re: Rubee

                                              Rubee, interesting side note, I was the last customer at hooks before it burnt down last summer. I scurried over there to get a few lobsters as they were closing.... the next am they were gone!! I can fedex you some littlnecks!

                                              1. re: cassoulady

                                                Yes, I'll take the littlenecks, and some fried Ipswich clams, and a lobster roll, and steamers, a roast beef with extra sauce from Kelly's or Mike's, and....

                                                Thanks for offering! ; )

                                            2. re: cassoulady

                                              I've probably written this before, but, I've found that using a smaller pot to steam the clams is better than a larger one, as there is less surface from which the liquid can evaporate while steaming the clams. If that makes any sense ....

                                              1. re: MMRuth

                                                And Cheese cloth not papertowel to drain! She says line a sieve with a paper towel, but Vivas will soak up all the clam juice! So I rang it out, tried to salvage the juice then just went out and got more littlenecks ( thankfully they are cheap here!). I bet when she wrote the book, papertowels were not as absorbent.

                                  2. An excerpt from our old family cookbook, handed down from generations.

                                    CLAM SAUCE

                                    INGREDIENTS SERVES 6
                                    2 SM CANS CLAMS, MINCED
                                    1 STICK BUTTER, OR
                                    (1/2 STICK BUTTER AND
                                    1/2 CUP OLIVE OIL)
                                    1 MED CAN MUSHROOMS, OR
                                    (1 LB FRESH MUSHROOMS)
                                    1/2 CUP PESTO, OR
                                    (1 CUP BASIL LEAVES AND
                                    4 CLOVES GARLIC, CRUSHED) 2 TBSP FLOUR
                                    1/2 CUP HALF & HALF
                                    1 TSP ITALIAN HERBS
                                    1/4 TSP RED PEPPER FLAKES
                                    SALT AND PEPPER TO TASTE
                                    1 LB LINGUINE
                                    (OR VERMICELLI)
                                    PARMESAN CHEESE

                                    As you all know, clam sauce is an old family recipe, and a favorite one at that. It has several advantages, not the least of which is the flexibility of the menu...you can fix it for two or twenty...or two hundred. While there are numerous variations, the basic recipe is butter, garlic and clams. Most recipes call for fresh clams, and you will all remember how fantastic the dish was in those days when we went a cockling at Tomales Bay. If you can get fresh, tender clams, by all means. Beware, however, since some of the frozen chopped clams are tough and chewy...who needs it? I have had great success with canned clams, either chopped or minced, it doesn't really matter. While there is a definite sharp and delicious taste to fresh clams, it is not that crucial unless you are feeding the food editor of Gourmet magazine. Now, to work. This recipe is for six people, adjust accordingly.

                                    If using fresh mushrooms, saute in the butter for several minutes, and add flour. If using canned, add to melted butter after browning flour. Add clam juice first, then herbs and spices, then half & half. Cook sauce until it is reasonably thick, and correct seasonings. Add clams last, and serve. If you can get the commercial clam base, use one or two teaspoons to increase the clam flavor. If you do, do not use any salt. Serve on cooked linguine or vermicelli with parmesan cheese on top.

                                    Clam sauce makes a great casserole with shells, fusilli (little corkscrews), mostaccioli, or even noodles. If you are going to prepare ahead and bake, be sure to have it very moist when you put it in the oven since it will dry out quite a bit in the baking process. If you use this method, do not overcook the pasta since it continues to cook while in the oven