Spaghetti alle Vongole (spaghetti with clams), is a sublimely simple pasta made with clams, garlic, olive oil, peppers and a bit of parsley. Yep, that's it! No cream, no tomato sauce, and most certainly no cheese. Some like to add tomatoes, but personally I love the simplicity of the briny clams interacting with the fresh green notes of the olive oil and parsley.
I've also seen people use a blend of butter and olive oil to make their Spaghetti alle Vongole because it forms an emulsion, making the sauce adhere to the pasta better. While this reasoning may be technically sound, the rich butter tends to coat your tongue and makes this fresh dish taste heavier than it needs to be.
While simple and quick to prepare the one thing that may literally muck you up is the dirt and sand that clams tend to contain. To ensure you're biting into briny clams and not gritty mud, you need to allow ample time for you clams to expel any silt they've sucked in. Just buy your clams a day or two ahead of time and soak them in salt water until you're ready to use them.
Normally with pasta I encourage you to generously salt the water before boiling the pasta, but Spaghetti alle Vongole is one exception. That's because the clams can be very salty and if you salt the pasta water you'll end up with over-salted pasta.
- As soon as you buy the clams, put them in a large container and fill with salt water (it should taste like the sea). Over the next day or two watch the water as the clams spit out sand. If you see a lot of sand accumulating on the bottom, rinse the clams and change the water.
- When you're ready to make the pasta, boil the spaghetti for one minute less than the time specified on the package in lightly salted water. This is because it will finish cooking in the sauce
- When the pasta is about 3 minutes away from being done, add the olive oil, garlic and chili peppers to a large pan over medium heat until the garlic starts to sizzle and becomes fragrant.
- Add the clams and wine and then cover the pan with a lid. Let the clams steam until half of them are open.
- Remove the lid and turn up the heat to high and boil the mixture until the rest of the clams open. If some clams don't open, discard the ones that don't open.
- Drain the pasta and add it to the clams along with the parsley. Toss to coat and serve immediately.