Spaghetti alle Vongole (or as you may already know it, Spaghetti with clams) is one of our top 3 favorite pasta dishes. This briny delicious pasta tastes exactly like the salty sea the clams come from. It’s the perfect seafood pasta to make right now and pretty easy to get restaurant-quality results with just a few simple tips. This naturally silky sauce is filled with meaty little clams, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, a splash of white wine, parsley, and a pinch of red pepper. That’s it — just a few simple ingredients between you and a really delicious dinner tonight. Plus, I’ve included step-by-step photos for anyone new to making Spaghetti with clams.
We love eating Spaghetti and clams both at home and at our local restaurants. In fact, it’s the birthday boy’s choice of pasta every year on the day. This deceptively delicious pasta takes advantage of abundant local Mediterranean Veraci clams which are plentiful in our part of Italy. And you’ll find it served on just about every local restaurant menu that specializes in seafood and fish. But it can also be easily made at home with the same (or even more) delicious results.
Simple Tips & Techniques to Make Better Spaghetti with Clams Pasta at Home
The real-deal Italian recipe for “Spaghetti alle Vongole” contains such few simple ingredients that it can actually be easy to overcomplicate it if you’re not careful. With this seafood pasta, there’s no hiding behind a long list of ingredients or longer cooking times like you can with other delicious pasta sauces. Here are a few tips and techniques to make a very simple and delicious spaghetti alle vongole at home.
- Use the best quality ingredients you can find. When you’re making a recipe with so few ingredients, this point can’t be stressed enough. For this dish to reach near perfection, you only need a light and fruity extra virgin olive oil, super fresh clams, high-quality spaghetti such as Garafolo, Voiello, or La Molisana brands, and a good dry white wine.
- Decide what flavors you want to be the most prominent. We prefer the briny taste of the ocean (the clams and clam juice) to be the most prominent flavor as this pasta was originally intended. If you’re like us, avoid overcomplicating the sauce with unnecessary ingredients like the addition of butter, adding excessive amounts of wine, or even too much parsley.
- Choose a very drinkable dry white wine without bubbles. The white wine you use is very important. Avoid sweet or sparkling varieties and opt for a really drinkable dry Soave, Pinot Grigio, Sancerre or even a Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough, NZ region works well here.
- Do not overcook the clams. Overcooking clams is 100% avoidable. When clams are cooked for too long, they become rubbery instead of perfectly chewy and tender. Clams generally start to open up beginning around 2 to 3 minutes of steaming and can take as long as 10 minutes for all of them to open depending on the variety you’re using. The Veraci clams used in this recipe usually take around 5-8 minutes for all clams to open up. Meaning if you don’t remove the clams that open up at the 2 to 3-minute mark, they’ll have cooked an additional 6 minutes too long if you just leave them in the pot. To avoid rubbery clams, place a bowl next to the clam steaming pot (or skillet) and as new clams open up, remove them using a pair of tongs to the bowl. Place the lid back on the cooking clams for about 15 to 30 seconds to allow more clams to open and remove them as they open. Repeat this process until all clams are opened up. This part goes really fast and is actually a lot of fun to grab the clams as they open.
How to Properly Soak Clams to Get Them to Release Maximum Amount of Sand & Grit
The salty ocean flavor of this pasta depends mostly on the clams great-tasting “clam liquor” (the juices inside the shell). But along with this delicious liquid comes sand and grit that needs to be removed so you don’t end up eating it. The solution is soaking the clams. Clams should soak before being cooked which helps them expel as much of the grit as possible. During the soaking period, they’ll purge most of the residual grit they have inside. Here are a couple of ways to ensure you end up with grit-free spaghetti and clams every time.
- The Italian way. Soak clams for an hour in seawater (or salted water) and bang the clams on the side of the sink when rinsing them.
- My way + the Italian way. Soak clams for an hour in a mixture of flour and sea-salted water. It’s a great trick to get clams (and mussels) to release the most sand. Bang them gently on the side of the sink when rinsing them. And lastly, after doing all of this, if you still see sandy bits in your cooked clam liquid, use a sieve (fine mesh strainer) or cheesecloth to strain the sauce before reducing it a bit and adding it to the spaghetti.
Spaghetti with Clams (Spaghetti alle Vongole) Ingredients
You only need a few simple high quality ingredients to make a great spaghetti with clams at home. Opt for the freshest clams you can afford.
- Veraci clams (or any other local variety of clams in your area)
- dry white wine (optional, but recommended)
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 whole dried chili pepper (or crushed red pepper flakes)
- spaghetti, vermicelli, linguine, spaghettini, or scialatielli pasta
How to Cook Spaghetti With Clams (Spaghetti alle Vongole)
- Clean & soak the clams. Rinse clams under cold running water, add them to a large bowl, add 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour to the bowl, a couple of ice cubes, and cover with water. Stir the mixture with your hand to dissolve the flour. Allow the clams to soak for 1 hour to release any sand and grit they’re holding inside. Drain and rinse the clams thoroughly several times, giving them a slight bang on the side of the sink to further help rid them of any released sand. Once they’re clean pick over them and discard any cracked or opened clams. Set aside.
- Blister the garlic. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and garlic in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and cook the garlic until it’s blistered or golden brown, but not dark in color.
- Boil the water for the pasta. Bring a large pot of very lightly salted water to boil.
- Cook the clams and build the sauce. Increase the heat to high, add the clams, white wine, and chili pepper to the pot, and cover with a tightfitting lid. Remove the lid approximately every 30 seconds to 1 minute to check for clams that have fully cooked and opened up. Quickly remove any open clams to a separate bowl to prevent over-cooking them and immediately place the lid back on top of the clams to allow the remaining clams to finish cooking. With the lid on, shake the pan periodically to allow room for all of the clams to have contact with the hot pan and open up. Repeat these steps until all clams have opened leaving only the sauce remaining in the pan. Discard any clams which do not open. Remove the garlic clove from the sauce and turn off the heat while the pasta finishes cooking. Check for seasoning and also for the amount of liquid that the clams released. Add up to 1 tablespoon of additional olive oil to the sauce if desired.
- Cook the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. When the pasta is 2 minutes from ‘al dente” doneness, strain the pasta reserving approximately 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water.
- Finish cooking the pasta noodles directly in the clam sauce. Heat the clam sauce on high heat and add the spaghetti noodles directly to the sauce, stirring everything together with a pair of tongs. Add about 1/4 cup of pasta water and cook the spaghetti noodles in this mixture for 2 minutes until the noodles are done, adjust seasonings. The sauce should be very creamy and velvety at this point. Add the clams back to the sauce, stir to combine, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately and, Enjoy!
Spaghetti w/Clams step-by-step recipe photos
Looking for a few Tasty Dishes to Serve with Spaghetti + Clams Pasta?
When we eat spaghetti alle vongole we like to keep things simple — sometimes we’ll have an appetizer beforehand or sometimes just a simple salad. Here are a few of our favorite ways to round out this meal.
- sea scallop gratin (capesante gratinate)
- shrimp scampi
- mozzarella parmigiano butter on toasted Italian bread
- leafy green salad with Starburst Vinaigrette
Below — Some of Our Favorite Spaghetti alle Vongole From Local Restaurants in Italy
I wanted you to be able to see how Italian restaurants (in Italy) prepare and serve Spaghetti with clams, so I’ve included the below photos to show you a few of our favorites. Every restaurant has its own unique style, but each one of them has one singular focused theme — the clams and the briny flavor of the sea are always the most prominent flavors of the dish (never butter, wine, lemon, or parsley). We love this pasta and you can be sure that if I’m making it at home it needs to taste as good (or almost as good) as what we can order out because there wouldn’t be any point otherwise.
(Below — 3 Variations of Homemade Spaghetti w/Clams w/Recommendations)
1. (Above) Spaghetti with Clams, butter, lemon zest, white wine, and parsley – Oversaturated with parsley and white wine + the addition of butter and lemon zest is totally unnecessary.
As far as flavoring the sauce goes, as you’ll see from above I added a pat of butter, a little lemon zest, and way too much parsley and white wine. served it with freshly grated Parmigiano. I found that while each of these additions is pretty tasty, they offer nothing to the perfection of the original dish. It was a good pasta, but not like the original and these flavors overpowered the taste of the sea which is what we prefer.
(Recommendation: DO NOT TRY THIS VERSION)
2. (Above) spaghetti with clams using 2 different types of clams together — Lupini clams + Veraci clams
In Italy, the smaller Lupini clams are not recommended for use in this pasta, but we found them very tasty. That said we agreed that the smaller Lupini clams being so small, didn’t offer the same delightful chew that the Veraci clams do. So, I’d say experiment using less expensive and various size clams together, but make sure one of the clam varieities are big enough to be enjoyable and noticeable when you bite down
(Recommendation: TRY THIS VERSION)
3. (Above) spaghetti with Clams using whole wheat pasta & finely diced sweet grape datterino tomatoes
This Spaghetti with clams uses “pasta Integrale” (whole wheat pasta) and it’s delicious. If you’re trying to increase your intake of whole complex carbohydrates replace regular pasta noodles with whole wheat pasta instead which has only a slightly different taste but is still delicious. The brightness and sweetness of the finely diced sweet tomatoes adds a brightness to the overall dish and are a really nice contrast to the salt, briny clams.
(Recommendation: TRY THIS VERSION)
Spaghetti alle Vongole (Spaghetti w/Clams + Sea Sauce) tips + tricks +FAQ’s
- Where does Spaghetti alle vongole (aka Spaghetti con Vongole or Spaghetti with clams) come from or originate from? Spaghetti with clams or spaghetti alle vongole was invented in Naples, Italy in the Campagna region. Most likely because there is an abundance of clams in this region.
- What kind of clams are used in Spaghetti with clams or spaghetti alle vongole? Veraci clams (also known as “true clams”) are Mediterranean clams originally used to make this Italian pasta dish. Although, Cherrystone clams, Littleneck clams, and Manila work well.
- How do I get sand out of clams? Clams need to be soaked prior to cooking so they release any sand they may have accumulated. Thankfully, there’s a very easy trick to getting them to release the maximum amount. Soak clams for approximately 30 minutes (if you’re in a hurry) in a large bowl of cold water mixed with about 1/4- 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour. If you’re not in a hurry, allow clams to soak for up to 1 hour in this mixture. And be sure to give the clams a few taps on the side of the sink while rinsing to get the stubborn ones to release any last sand they may have. Alternatively, you can soak clams in cold seawater or salted water for 1 hour prior to cooking. Rinse well before using.
- What do clams taste like? Any good clam should taste briny and like the ocean or sea from which it came. It will taste a little bit “fishy”, but in a fresh delicious way and not overwhelmingly so. Clams can be eaten raw or cooked in a lot of different preparations, but the smaller to mid-size clams are best eaten raw (like cherrystones or littlenecks) because the larger clam varieties are too chewy and tough to be eaten this way. The larger the clams are, the tougher and chewier they are making them great for things like frying in Po’boys and for chowders. For instance, Topneck clams are large clams that come 3-4 clams per pound and are also sometimes referred to as count neck clams. And although I love all clams, I don’t recommend Topneck clams for making Spaghetti with clams.
- What’s the difference in taste between clams and oysters? Clams have a briny and pungent flavor, while oysters have a briny, but smooth and buttery taste. Clams are also chewier than oysters.
- How do I make sure I don’t overcook my clams so they aren’t chewy and tough? Ensure the clams don’t overcook by immediately removing any open clams to a bowl. Then replace the lid back on the pot to allow the others to open up. Repeat this step, checking every 30 seconds or so to remove opened clams until all clams are opened. Let the clams rest in the bowl and toss them back into the pasta before serving.
- How do I make sure my Spaghetti with clams pasta isn’t too salty? As you know, clams come from the sea and are therefore salty. Although the saltiness can vary, I always find that I don’t have to add any additional salt to my Spaghetti with clams sauce. But even though I don’t add extra salt, it can still be a little too salty sometimes because of the natural salinity of the clams. The way you adjust and balance out the saltiness is by using the very lightly salted pasta cooking water. Since the pasta noodles actually finish cooking the last 1-2 minutes directly in the clam sauce. The addition of the very lightly salted cooking water helps to balance out the saltiness from the clam liquor.
- Should Spaghetti with Clams have Tomatoes in it? Like many of the most delicious dishes around the world, there’s always controversy about how this pasta sauce should be made. Some say it can only be made “in bianco” (meaning the sauce must be white without any tomatoes or tomato sauce). While others swear it must be “in rosso” (meaning it must contain tomato sauce). And still, yet, a third group says the white sauce should have finely diced baby tomatoes added towards the end. We prefer the pure taste of the sea and almost always choose “in Bianco” or add finely diced sweet tomatoes at the end. No matter which version you choose, they’re all delicious.
- Should I add Wine to Spaghetti with Clams? You may choose to use white wine or not. Traditionally, in the 1700s white wine wasn’t an ingredient in spaghetti with clams. But over the years it’s become mainstream to add it sparing to bring out additional flavors that wouldn’t be released otherwise without the alcohol which draws them out. This pasta should taste like the Mediterranean sea (or any sea) and not like the wine cellar.