Recipes

linguine and clams

It’s only the first day of summer and I’m already weeks deep into our unofficial dish of it, linguine alle vongole, preferably hastily prepared about 10 to 15 minutes before we dive in, eaten outside with a current favorite rosé, caprese salad and a massive bowl of kale caesar (from SKED). It’s infinitely summery. It’s pasta, but I don’t feel like I need a nap after I eat it. And hey, there’s even a t-shirt to go with it (hat tip).


dried pasta is ideal here
a good heap of parsley

You do not need one fancy thing to make it, save the freshest clams you can find. You can pick them up on the way home from the beach or sprinkler park or wherever you’re going to spend your summer day now that cooking will be the easiest part of it. I prefer manila clams, as they’re smaller and, I’m convinced, sweeter, but littleneck or cherrystone are fine as well. From there, a glug of oil, red pepper flakes, a lot of garlic, a cup of wine, a bag of dried pasta, a lump of butter, a squeeze of lemon, and a pile of chopped parsley, and boom, so easy let’s do it again every week.

a lot of garlic
clams, garlic, wine

The only thing I’m extremely bad at when I make it is measuring, which I’m sure fills you with confidence right now. If you were interviewing me as I was cooking it and said “how much garlic did you just chop?” I’d be like an impenetrable grandmother and say “some” but I mean “a lot” and possibly even “all of it” (it = a head of garlic) when I double this. We’ll call it 7 cloves. Whaaat, you say, did you invite vampires over? But it settles in so well with the other ingredients, it will still not be the first thing you taste. If you ask me how much olive oil I put in the pan to heat the garlic, I’d say, “a glug” or “just coat the pan.” Parsley? A big handful. Butter? A lump. (Note: Every cook who has ever told you they added only a “pat” of butter lies.) Pepper flakes? As much as your crew can handle. Salt? Go for it. Pasta? Eh, about a pound, but what I really mean is, if you guys are a 7 to 8 servings to a pound bag people, do that here; if you’re 3 or 4 to a pound, do that instead. Clams? Well, are clams-as-centerpiece or clams-as-accent people? Depending on where you fall, you might want a scant 1/2 to a generous 3/4 pound per person. Shown here is the latter, and it’s doubled, and this isn’t even all of them, and we still only had pasta left at the end of the meal, and this was just a normal Sunday for my husband’s family, which is why I love them. Know your audience. Written below are more middle-of-the-road amounts that will make most people happy.

opening up

A few other things I hope to head off before anyone asks:
Deb, I don’t eat clams: Try this with mussels! Or shrimp, although I’d sauté or grill them instead of steaming them.
Deb, I don’t eat fish at all: Ah! I really want to make this with either chickpeas or artichokes, but be ready to tweak flavors as needed, as clams provide their own flavorful broth in a way that these ingredients will not. In both cases, you are now allowed to finish it with parmesan. If you wish to finish the seafood version with parmesan, just warn me before you tell me so I can cover my ears.
Deb, I don’t want to eat pasta: My favorite pasta swap is actually white beans, either giant (like we do here) or smaller ones more readily available in cans. Maybe you cook dried beans like these chickpeas and pour the warm clams and their juices over them?
Deb, I really only care about the clams: On it! Try these garlic, wine, and butter steamed clams with grilled bread, Portuguese-style.
Deb, I only want to make the caprese salad: (How did you know what my lunch was!) I take two approaches to caprese salad when I’m using grocery store (and not recently-picked, peak-season tomatoes, still a couple weeks off here): 1. Find the best ones you can get and season them well. 2. Find the best ones you can get and slow-roast half of them. This combination of some tart/chewy tomatoes and fresh ones is addictive, and hides a multitude of tomato imperfections. In both cases, add mozzarella or burrata, a few leaves of fresh basil, olive oil, and coarse salt to taste. Balsamic vinegar is not traditional on authentic caprese, but you should make food the way you like it. I add a few drops when the tomatoes are mediocre.

caprese
linguine with a tremendous amount of clams

Previously

One year ago: Stovetop Americanos, Easy Drop Berry Shortcakes and Zucchini Grilled Cheese
Two years ago: Strawberry Milk, Corn and Black Bean Weeknight Nachos, and Funnel Cake
Three years ago: Saltine Crack Ice Cream Sandwiches, Strawberry Cornmeal Griddle Cakes, Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie
Four years ago: Valerie’s French Chocolate Cake and Limonada de Coco
Five years ago: Espresso Granita with Whipped Cream
Six years ago: Broccoli Parmesan Fritters and Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken
Seven years ago: Rich Homemade Ricotta and Linguine with Pea Pesto
Eight years ago: Shaved Asparagus Pizza, Root Beer Float Cupcakes and Lamb Chops with Pistachio Tapenade
Nine years ago: Lemon Mint Granita, Pickled Sugar Snap Peas, and Springy Fluffy Marshmallows
Ten years ago: Dead Simple Slaw + 6 Heat Wave Reprieves, 10 Paths to Painless Pizza-Making, and Pistachio Petit Four Cake
Eleven years ago: Gateau de Crepes

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Dutch Apple Pie
1.5 Years Ago: Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts and Homemade Irish Cream
2.5 Years Ago: Potato Kugel, Pull-Apart Rugelach, Tres Leches Cake and a Taco Party
3.5 Years Ago: Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix and Gingerbread Biscotti
4.5 Years Ago: Sweet Potato Cake with Marshmallow Frosting, Cigarettes Russes Cookies, and Sugared Pretzel Cookies

Linguine with Clams

  • Servings: 5 to 6
  • Print

The photos in this post show the staggering portions I used for 8 people (5 pounds clams and 2 pounds pasta; we had a lot of pasta leftover and no clams so I’ve adjusted accordingly). Please take note of what I said above, re: typical portions in your crew when estimating, and adjust as needed for most or less pasta or clams.

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound dried linguine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • About 7 cloves garlic, minced
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 cup crisp, dry white wine, doesn’t have to be fancy
  • 3 1/2 to 4 pounds manila (my first choice), cherrystone, or little neck clams
  • 3 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 lemon

If you think your clams may not be clean, wash them first: Fill a large bowl with cool tap water and place the clams in it. Let them soak for 20 minutes during which they’ll expel any sand and grit.

Cook linguine: Bring a large pot of very well-salted water to a boil and cook linguine until it is tender but still with a good bite left to it, about 1 minute less than the final doneness you’d prefer. Carefully ladle out (about) 1 cup of pasta water into a glass or bowl, set aside. Drain pasta, discarding remaining cooking water.

Cook the clams: In your empty pasta pot or a large sauté pan with a lid, drizzle oil in empty pot and add garlic, a couple pinches of pepper flakes (up to a teaspoon is great here for people who like more heat), and kosher salt, I use about a teaspoon here but use less if you’re nervous. Turn heat to medium, stirring the garlic and pepper flakes until the garlic begins to sizzle and just barely begins turning golden brown. Add wine and half of reserved pasta water and turn heat up so that it boils. Add clams (discarding the water they were soaking in) and cover pot to steam them open. Manila clams take 3 or so minutes to steam open; cherrystone and/or little neck can take up to 5 to 7 minutes. Peeking under the lid is fine.

[If you’re really obsessive like me, after a minute or two, you might open the lid and start removing, with tongs, the ones that have opened. It’s basically like playing one of those fishing games at a beach carnival, where the fish mouths open wide with a prize inside, except these you can actually catch and eat.]

Finish the dish: Scoop cooked clams into a large bowl with a slotted spoon, discarding any that don’t haven’t opened, and leaving the cooking liquid behind. Simmer the cooking liquid in the pot until it has reduced slightly; you want a little less than cup. Taste for seasoning; adjust as needed. Add butter and, once it has melted, add drained linguine and half of parsley; cook them together for 1 minute, tossing frequently, until linguine is well-coated and only a little liquid remains at the bottom. If needed, use some or all of remaining pasta water to keep pasta loose. Add clams (and any liquid that has collected in the bowl) to the pot and toss to combine, once or twice, then tip whole mixture into serving bowl.

Finish with lemon juice, to taste, and remaining parsley. Eat right this very second.

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81 comments on linguine and clams

  1. Kaci

    Sigh. I love living in the Midwest, I truly do, but not having a decent fishmonger within 100 miles bums me out. This looks delicious, but will forever be a dream (or at least, until I go to visit someone on the East Coast)

    1. Agreed! I’ve been living in Chicago for about two years now, and am still looking for a good fishmarket! Being such a big city, I’m sure there are good ones here, but I just can’t get over how far we are from the ocean now (was living in Boston before)!!

      1. Soapnana

        I got my clams at Dirk’s and they were amazing! A little pricey – $28 for three and a half pounds – but I think it was worth it for the quality.

  2. Brittany

    Curious as to how you choose your wine pairings – do you just know what you like, do you get recommendations from friends,or advice from a sommelier? Also, here’s my shameless pitch for Washington state rose – please give it a shot! There are some excellent choices!

    1. deb

      We generally know what we like. We had this at a restaurant in Williamsburg last month and my husband tracked it down and got a case, which is rare, usually ones we like at restaurants are hard for regular people to get.

  3. Tess

    Just here to say this is exactly how I make fresh steamer clams after digging them out of the beach in Puget Sound. One of my very favorite food experiences! Glad to know things aren’t too different over there on the other coast :-)

  4. Deanna

    Linguinimand clams is my favorite dish from growing up. I’ve been making a riff on my dad’s for ages (although he uses canned clams mostly and they’re great in it). I like adding oregano to mine because that’s what he did. Oh, and for people in the middle of the country, if you can’t find fresh clams, a) check your local Asian grocery store as they tend to carry who frozen baby clams which are great to keep on hand for emergency meals, or b) canned clams totally work too.

        1. jasminedbyrd

          I’m in the same boat! I invited a friend over who I know loves clams so that I could cook this! Also I grew up on the canned version and while this is sophisticated and beautiful, cans work in a ‘I need Linguini and Clams NOW’ pinch :)

    1. jess

      i grew up with my mom making “clam spaghetti”, which is literally exactly this, but with canned clams. it’s totally not the same, but still very tasty!
      also, i’m pretty sure she used the liquid, too – in lieu of clam liquor.

      1. MB

        My grandmother always added a handful of cornmeal to the soaking clams. She said they would open slightly to eat the meal and release the grit. I do it always just to remember her and have never had sandy clams.
        I too use a Dutch oven . Always supplement with a couple of cans of canned clams, anchovies a large shredded zucchini and lots of red pepper flakes to start. I add two or three cups of clam juice after the wine and reduce all by half. Then bring to simmer and add fresh and canned clams.. mince the parsley with lemon zest and squeeze a lemon on the two pound pile. Serve with pesto on the side ( it’s great) We prefer cappelini or linguini fini so extra liquid is absorbed with enough left over for a freezer jar .Favorite summer meal with vinegary cucumbers and tomato basil salad .

    2. PeppaD

      Don’t listen to those people, canned clams are perfectly fine. Of course they’re not as delicious as fresh, but you’ll still have a nice pasta dinner. A few cans of clams and bottles of clam juice are part of my emergency, last-minute-dinner pantry items. Enjoy your pasta!

  5. Tess

    This is my absolute favorite thing to order at an italian restaurant, and I’ve never been brave enough to make it at home!
    Where do you get your clams?? I am somewhat near to you, but Whole Foods is the only place I can think of, and they never seem to have manilas!

  6. Kate

    I feel like hopefully this is a safe space to ask a question that’s bothered me for ages: how do you eat this? Like, it takes some work to maneuver the clam meat out of the shells, right? (This question also applies to mussel dishes) Do you hold the shell with one hand and fork it with the other? Crack it open and eat it from the shell like an oyster? Do some other sort of obscure ritual that I can’t even picture? I’ve always wanted to try something like this but I’m daunted.

    1. Gia

      Hi Kate – the shells of the claims open up when the steam, so to eat them you just use your fork to take them out of the shell (hold the shell in one hand and fork in the other). They come out really easily. Usually you put out a separate bowl on the table for people to dump their shells so they don’t have empty shells on their plates. Same for mussels. Definitely give them a try, they are worth it!

    2. amycjes82

      A cocktail fork can make a big difference (with mussels, anyway). Use the tiny form to stab the meat inside while holding the shell with your other hand. Messy, but wow is it worth it when they’re good!

    3. Megan

      I was going to ask the same question! We don’t have this dish here in South Africa, so I was struggling to get my head around clam meat in shells, in a tangle with linguini. I guess you use your fork to take them out of the shell, and then twirl up some pasta and munch!

    4. Francoise

      when i make this i remove most about half of the clams from the shells and toss with the pasta; reserving about 6 clams in shells/person to place on top of the bowls as garnish. easier to eat and just as pretty!

  7. Christine

    Sorry, I’d put cheese on this. I’d put grated cheese on a brick and eat it. Signed, Italian American (and Cape Codder).

  8. My absolute favourite… preferably eaten on a terrace with cold glas of rosé, overlooking the Venetian Laguna – oh, daydreaming. That was ten minutes of quality time well spent, thank you so much, now must run out to get some clams!!! Let’s see how my 2 year old twins will like them, hopefully they are Mummy’s boys when in comes to mussels. N xx

  9. Stacey Sarnicola

    Lovely!! I have made L&CS countless times, but no matter how long I scrub those critters and let them soak, there is always grit. This is why I was shocked that you would let the cooking reduce down. I am straining mine with cheese cloth. It kills me. Is it because I use little necks? I must try Manila but I never see them at the market. I see tiny vongole. Are these the same?

    1. deb

      They might be the same as tiny vongole; you can probably ask the fishmonger. I haven’t had a problem with grit in the sauce, but I soak them as written before using them.

  10. Shannon Murphy

    You know, I love this post and I love all your posts and I just realized why–You offer us these amazing recipes and beautiful photos, but none of it makes me feel like my kitchen is inferior because I don’t have like, fresh sprigs of lavender draped all over my bronze serving spoons and white marble countertops. Just Real Life and great food. I just bought your new book.

  11. Juliet Jankowitz

    Just to tell you…I use even more garlic… chopped onions as well in the sautée…probably the same amount of parsley and grind white pepper into the mixture…no wine or butter. It can also work out well by using a couple of cans of chopped clams with a final topping of the fresh ones. If using canned clams be careful not to overcook them. My version is from my Sicilian mother-in-law.

  12. Jennifer Becker

    Yum! Just a tip from me – I use a coffee mug to grab my pasta water out of the pan. It has a handle to make is easier and can withstand the heat!

  13. jackiesoo213

    Haha, I am ALWAYS bad with measuring! Which I think actually DOES fill me with confidence if another chef also admits that, because really, how consistent can one person be?? If the quantities are all fudge-able, the recipe must be pretty darn foolproof! The best kind of recipe!

  14. I live this recipe so much and the timing is incredible! I just got back from a weekend in Lisbon and my fav meal was a similar clam dish. They didn’t have it over pasta (something I really wished it had while I was eating it) but very similar and so clean and simple… only there, instead of parsley they used cilantro. It added a little extra “kick” which was different. Love your site Deb!

  15. 2tattered

    Excellent rendition. Years ago, I came across a recipe titled, ‘Linguine con Vongole Fugite’, which translates (sort of, I think) into ‘Linguine with Escaped Clams’. (Don’t you just love that?)

    The recipe used only clam juice – might be a good alternative for those of you who live far from a coast, or a way to introduce a small child to the flavors. However, I wouldn’t hesitate to use canned clams with their juice if you can’t find fresh ones.

  16. Soapnana

    This is a great recipe! I had never made clams before and everything turned out delicious.

    I would say definitely soak and scrub the clams even if you think they’re clean – mine were supposedly clean but I found a decent amount of sand at the bottom of the bowl after soaking.

    I made this in a Dutch oven instead of a sauté pan and the high sides were very helpful when mixing everything together at the end.

    Also, I tasted the sauce after cooking the clams and it was incredibly salty (assuming from the seawater) but it mellowed out significantly after mixing with the pasta.

    Would absolutely make this again!

  17. Cy

    One of my favorite dishes and will make it soon. One of the best linguine and clams I’ve ever had dining out was at Al de la in Brooklyn. It’s how I measure all others. Yum

  18. T

    We made this today. The linguine turned out delicious with the sauce, but the clams were sort of tough. Any idea why that was? We cooked them for 5 minutes and they all opened. Did we overcook? Undercook? Thanks!

    1. Verónica

      You most probably overcooked. It definitely turns them tough. :(
      Great recipe, I always make it at home, taking advantage of being on the coast here, in the wonderful south of Chile.
      You can also try cooking these Spanish style, with bread crumbs, instead of pasta. The clam steps are the same, but when all that wonderful liquor comes out from the little clams, add a tablespoon or two of panko or regular bread crumbs to your pan, and mix it well until a marvelous sauce comes alive, that you will spoon over your clams as you eat, along with the parsley added at the very last stage. Mmmmmmmm, yummyyyyy. And it has the plus of being another one pan wonder.

    2. jerk nugget

      don’t go by time. watch them and take them out as soon as they open. i always use a pot with a clear lid so i can see what’s going on without letting the heat and steam out. i do as deb mentions and pick them out as they open one by one. it sounds tedious but it’s really no big deal since the whole thing only takes a few minutes and it’s worth it to have juicy clams :)

  19. EB

    For vegetarians, my mom used to make a dish like this with canned artichokes instead of clams– originally from an old Silver Palate Cookbook, I think! She would add capers to give it that briny something-something (which also made it a bit more of a piccata sauce, but no complaints from us!)

  20. I had never made clams at home before and was surprised at how easy it was! I used littlenecks, and even soaked them overnight to get rid of all the grit and sand. I was a little concerned about them not surviving the sojourn in the fridge, but they all opened beautifully. Like a commenter below, I tasted the sauce as I went, and it was very very salty before adding the pasta, but afterwards, it mellowed. If you’re still apprehensive, add more lime or lemon juice, and maybe a little cheese to finish. Really good!

  21. Kris

    This was delicious! But it was quite gritty for us, both the clams and then, sadly, the sauce. We used Whole Foods littlenecks and soaked for half an hour in cold water before cooking. Next time I’ll try soaking longer in cornmeal water per Joy of Cooking — they recommend soaking for 3-12 hours!— any other ideas? Anyone know why cornmeal is recommended?

    1. Beth

      How to purge clams, from Emeril Lagasse’s website:

      Clams live buried in the sandy bottom of the ocean floor. They accumulate grit, sand, and dirt because they do not fully close their shells. Live clams need to be purged of the sand and grit prior to cooking. To purge clams, they must be submerged in a saltwater solution of 1/3 cup salt mixed with 1 gallon water for 30 minutes, after which the water should be changed. This should be repeated two or three times. Alternatively, the clams can be left in a large amount of water overnight.

      1. MB

        My grandmother always added a handful of cornmeal to the soaking clams. She said they would open slightly to eat the meal and release the grit. I do it always just to remember her and have never had sandy clams.
        I too use a Dutch oven . Always supplement with a couple of cans of canned clams, anchovies a large shredded zucchini and lots of red pepper flakes to start. I add two or three cups of clam juice after the wine and reduce all by half. Then bring to simmer and add fresh and canned clams.. mince the parsley with lemon zest and squeeze a lemon on the two pound pile. Serve with pesto on the side ( it’s great) We prefer cappelini or linguini fini so extra liquid is absorbed with enough left over for a freezer jar .Favorite summer meal with vinegary cucumbers and tomato basil salad .

  22. Anne Marie

    The best part about making linguini and clams is that wonderful clicky-clack sound the clams make when they rub together.

  23. Sarah Beth

    Had a friend over for dinner, clams were 2 dozen for $10 at the Union Sq Greenmarket that day…done and DONE. So delicious, thank you for the inspiration and delicious recipe, Deb!

  24. Jennifer

    This was absolutely wonderful. I followed Emeril’s directions for soaking to purge sand with 1/3 cup salt to a gallon of water for 30 minutes and drained/repeated for a total of 4 times. Not one grit of sand left in the clams. If using littlenecks like I had to I’d recommend keeping 2 cups each of pasta water and wine rather than the suggested 1 cup each. About half my clams went to 12 minutes of steaming before they opened and i was glad to have the extra liquid to add to the steaming clams before it boiled away.

  25. victoria2nyc

    This looks delish and is, basically, what I do. However, I always seem to have an issue cleaning the clams so I follow the method outlined here https://honest-food.net/how-to-purge-sand-from-clams/ even if I’m making clams I got from the market. If nothing else, it’s an interesting read. (I also strain the clam juice through a coffee filter.) By the way, your watermelon cucumber salad is on rotation in my house. It’s GREAT.

  26. Dianne

    Thank you for the beautifully written post, Deb. It inspired me to finally get a few clams at the market – and I was so delighted by the results of these simple instructions. I used rice wine vinegar in lieu of wine, but the basic technique carried me through. Thank you as always for sharing your family traditions.

  27. Janell

    This was BY FAR the best outcome I’ve ever had for a recipe! Steps were well laid out and defined and it was easy to follow. My family loved this meal. Will definitely add this to my regular meal planning. Thank you so much!

  28. I made this tonight for dinner and OMG!!! It was incredible. I was terrified of the clams not opening or that it would just be a disaster but I cannot believe how easy it was and I will be making this again. I sprung for a nice medium dry Oregon Pinot Gris to cook and drink with it and it was divine. Everything I have ever made of yours is a winner! XOXOXO

  29. Elizabeth

    Thank you for posting this! We threw a birthday party for my sister last night and served this with rosé and caprese salad and everyone loved it, even my 2 year old nephew! Your recipe was so well written it was a breeze, even though I’ve never cooked clams at home before.
    I know you’re big on birthday cakes (but who isn’t??) so you’ll want to know I made an earthquake cake and served it warm with vanilla ice cream. The lightness of the meal meant everyone had room for cake!
    Love your site!!