What is Spaghetti alle Vongole?
A quick and simple pasta with a light, delicate garlic, clam, and white wine sauce. Eating this dish makes us feel like we’re sitting on a beach, dining al fresco with a cold glass of white wine (which honestly sounds like heaven right about now!).
The salty, briny clams flavor the entire sauce, making this (1) a seafood lover’s dream, but also (2) a perfect meal to enjoy on a warm summer day.
Ingredients For Spaghetti Alle Vongole
- Spaghetti – If you don’t have spaghetti, use any other long, thin pasta, such as linguine, bucatini, or, tagliatelle.
- Garlic – Cook the garlic slowly over moderately low heat so that it becomes sweet and fragrant, but doesn’t burn.
- Clams – Use the freshest clams you can find, preferably cooking them the same day you buy! We use Littleneck clams for this recipe (more on this below).
- Red pepper flakes – While you can certainly omit the red pepper flakes, they add a gentle heat that compliments the delicate flavors in the white wine sauce. A little heat is a good thing!
- White wine – You’ll want to use a dry white wine, nothing too sweet. While it doesn’t have to be expensive, you should only cook with wines that you’re willing to drink. The flavor becomes more pronounced when cooked.
- Lemons – For acidity to help round out the flavors
- Extra virgin olive oil – High quality evoo
- Kosher salt – My go-to salt for cooking!
Given how few ingredients there are in this recipe, you definitely want to work with high quality food, especially the clams. Speaking of…
Best Clams for Vongole
Our go-to’s are Littleneck clams. Why? Of the varieties we can get locally, we find they have the most delicate, sweet clam flavor. All in for that!
Manilla clams (let’s call these ‘medium-sized’) or Cockles (the tiniest of the bunch) are also great in vongole! Just remember to adjust cook times — detailed below — as these clams are both smaller than Littlenecks.
Purge your clams!
What the hell does that mean?
Okay, so glad you asked! Purging clams is the process by which you remove the sand and grit. This is a good thing, trust me. Ain’t nobody got time to be eating spaghetti alle vongole full of sand! Here’s how to do it:
Place clams in cold, salty water for 30 minutes. Lift the clams out and replace the water. Repeat until clams no longer release any sand. If you can spare an hour or so, do not skip this step!
How to Tell If My Clams Are Alive
Simple: if the clams are wide open and don’t close when you tap on the shell before cooking, they’re dead.
If the clams remain tightly closed after cooking, they’re dead.
Everything else is safe to eat!
How Long to Cook Clams
Clams could not be simpler to cook. Once you’ve sautéed your aromatics (garlic and red pepper flakes), add the closed Littleneck clams to the pan.
Add white wine, then cover and cook at a simmer for approximately 6 minutes. No tossing or shaking the pan required! Once they’re in and the pan is covered, walk away.
When you return after 6 minutes, check to make sure all clam shells have opened. Discard any that are closed (see note above). Your clams are ready to be tossed with spaghetti or linguine!
Note: if using Manilla or Cockles, the cook time will be 1-2 minutes less since they are smaller in size.
What Happens if My Clam is Only Opened a Crack?
Still okay to eat! You might have to pry it open, but unless that sucker is completely sealed shut, you can eat it.
We fully admit that leaving clams in their shell can be, well… annoying as hell. And we will never understand why whole clams are left on pizza. Who can eat that? Seriously. But in this pasta dish, we just adore the presentation. You can totally, 100% remove the clams from their shell if you feel so desired. Either remove the clams from their shells after cooking and add them straight back into the pasta, or chop them finely before returning to the spaghetti to toss. You do you!
All we know is that if serving a briny, salty, garlicky pasta dish on a date night is wrong, we definitely don’t want to be right.
As part of my Date Night In series, I’m offering up a few wine suggestions to serve alongside. The pairings below are reflective of the brininess of the clams and the delicate flavors, overall, from the sauce.
Whites – Let’s start with Italian whites. Look for something that is either fruit forward or dry, crisp, and has a good amount of minerality to match the brininess of the clams. We drank this with a Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc and it was perfection. Muscadet is another great option! It’s dry, has a minerally, citrus-like taste, and high acidity. Winner winner, clam and white wine dinner!
Red – It may seem counterintuitive to pair this pasta dish with a red wine — hello, it’s a white wine sauce! — but if you’ve got a light, fruity red on hand, such as a Sangiovese, I think it would pair very nicely.
Rosé – If you’re longing for an ice cold rosé, look for something that is light and dry, such as Bardolino Chiaretto. The wine from Bardolino is light bodied, but has a delicate sweet finish.
And speaking of a sweet finish, don’t forget dessert! Love pairing this light Italian pasta with a classic Italian dessert: best ever creme brulée! I KNOW.
If you make Spaghetti alle Vongole, please let me know by leaving a review and rating below!
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For more recipes worthy of Date Night, check out the following:
- Heirloom tomato gazpacho with hand ripped mozzarella
- Creamy polenta with mushrooms and blue cheese
- Goat cheese-crusted roast rack of lamb with roasted grapes
- Pan seared salmon with lemon parmesan cream sauce and couscous
- 10 minute spicy ramen noodles (like take-out, but BETTER!)
Spaghetti alle Vongole
- A skillet or deep pan with a lid
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- ⅓ cup dry white wine
- 2 lbs Littleneck clams, scrubbed clean
- 2-3 Tbsp parsley, chopped, plus more for serving
- ½ lb (8 oz) spaghetti
- ¼ cup reserved pasta water
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
- grated parmesan for serving
- freshly ground black pepper for serving
- Begin by purging (or cleaning) the clams. Place clams in a large bowl of cold water and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Carefully lift out clams, then replace water and repeat once more, or until there is no sand and grit left on the bottom of the bowl. Set clams aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, but do not salt. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, until al dente. Use a measuring cup to reserve ½ cup cooking liquid, then drain pasta and set aside.
- In a large skillet or pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic cloves and cook, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant and golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. If the garlic begins to brown too quickly, turn the heat down to medium-low.
- With the heat on medium-low, add cleaned clams, red pepper flakes, chopped parsley, and white wine to the pan, then cover and cook until opened, 6 minutes. Discard any clams that are tightly sealed (see note below). Add drained pasta and butter to the skillet, then toss to combine. Pour in ¼ cup of reserved pasta water and toss again. If you want more of a sauce, add remaining ¼ cup of reserved cooking liquid. Otherwise, divide into 4 bowls then top with grated parmesan, additional parsley, and freshly ground pepper and serve immediately.
- Clams: cook time is for Littleneck clams. If you use Manilla or Cockles (both smaller than Littlenecks), you’ll need to reduce the cook time by 1-2 minutes. The clams are fully cooked when the shells open!
- Wine: cook with a wine that you wouldn’t mind drinking, as the flavor intensifies through cooking. A dry white wine with crisp minerality and citrus tones (such as Sauvignon Blanc or Muscadet) is perfect here. Additional wine recommendations are listed at end of blog post.
- For serving: while serving clams in their shell makes for a beautiful presentation, it adds an extra step (removing clams) before eating. I like serving this as pictured, but if you’d prefer you can remove clams from all shells after cooking, then add the clam meat directly to pasta and toss before serving.
For more date night recipes, check out the following:Crispy chicken thighs with white beans and kale Creamy polenta with roasted mushrooms and blue cheese Chicken milanese recipe with shaved fennel salad Mozzarella caprese gazpacho Panko roast rack of lamb with roasted grapes