Pasta alle vongole, or pasta with clams, is a culinary gem that hails from the coastal regions of Italy. This iconic Neapolitan dish has won the hearts of many with its simple yet robust flavors. The dish’s origins are deeply rooted in the coastal areas where clams are abundant in the crystalline blue waters, making it a staple for many Italian households.
Traditionally, pasta alle vongole is made in two versions: red (with tomatoes) and white (without tomatoes). Since we’re making a garden lover’s pasta alle vongole, our version takes on a verdant greenish color due to the addition of more chopped parsley and garden-grown garlic than most recipes suggest. This vibrant pasta dish is the perfect way to showcase fresh herbs and vegetables straight from your home garden.
One of the hallmarks of pasta alle vongole is that it comes together quickly, making it an ideal weeknight meal. Within 30 minutes, you can have a restaurant-worthy plate of pasta gracing your dinner table.
The star of the dish is undoubtedly the fresh clams. When buying clams, look for tightly closed shells, which indicates they are alive and healthy. Good options include littleneck or Manila clams. Give them a cold water bath when you get home to rinse off any sand or grit. Then place them in a colander in your fridge and cover with a damp cloth to keep them happy until cooking time. If you don’t have access to fresh clams, you may use 3-4 cans of chopped clams as a substitute. Be sure to add the clam juice as well.
Traditionally long shaped pasta such as linguine or spaghetti are used, as the long noodles do a better job of trapping those delicious pan juices. Opt for a high-quality pasta made from durum wheat or semolina flour.
A high quality extra virgin olive oil is key for sautéing the aromatic ingredients that build the base of the sauce. The richness of the olive oil also balances the brininess of the clams.
Chopped garlic provides a fundamental flavor layer. Sautéing it briefly in the olive oil helps mellow its pungency. For bolder garlic notes, add chopped garlic both at the beginning and later when adding the clams.
Fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley adds herbal brightness. Chopped and sprinkled generously at the end, it contributes lively freshness. For our garden lover’s pasta alle vongole, we use generous amounts of parsley for a verdant color and flavor boost.
A pinch of red pepper flakes provides a subtle heat that cuts through the dish’s richness. This optional ingredient can be adjusted to suit your tastes.
Beyond its core components, part of pasta alle vongole’s appeal is that it can be tweaked depending on the season and what’s growing in your garden.
Consider these variations:
- In spring, add shelled peas or asparagus cut into 1-inch pieces when sautéing the garlic. Their color and sweetness accent the sauce beautifully.
- In summer, use fresh chopped tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil to add sweetness and richness.
- In fall, a handful of shredded kale or spinach melts nicely when added at the end.
- In winter, add a frozen cube or two of parsley pesto to your sauce, if you have some on hand
However you choose to put your own garden-inspired spin on this Italian classic, pasta alle vongole is sure to become a favorite. Its simplicity and fresh flavors are hard to beat. Savor the experience of gathering ingredients from your backyard and coming together over this seaside delight.
Garden Lover’s Pasta Alle Vongole
Ingredients (for 4-6 Servings):
- 1 box (16 oz) linguine (or spaghetti/vermicelli)
- 2.7 lbs fresh Manilla clams (or 3-4 6.5 ounce cans of chopped clams with juice)
- 9-15 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 1-2 peperoncino (red chili peppers) or dried flakes (adjust to preference)
- 6-7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 6 handfuls fresh parsley, finely chopped
- Salt to taste (optional)
- ⅓ cup dry white wine
- Begin by finely chopping the peeled garlic and parsley. If using whole chili peppers, chop them finely after removing the seeds.
- Wash the clams under cold water, discarding any with broken shells. Some clams might contain sand, but this can be filtered out later.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the pasta al dente according to package instructions. Avoid adding salt as the clams will impart a salty flavor.
- In a separate pan, cook the clams covered over medium to high heat until they open (about 5 minutes). Allow them to cool slightly.
- Remove the meat from most of the clam shells, keeping a few intact for presentation. Discard empty shells. If necessary, filter the liquid produced by the clams to remove any sand.
- In a frying pan, heat half the olive oil and sauté the garlic and peperoncino until the garlic softens.
- Add the clams (both shelled and unshelled) and their liquid to the pan. Cook for a few minutes before adding the white wine. Continue cooking until the alcohol evaporates.
- Stir in the parsley and the remaining olive oil. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes.
- Drain the pasta and combine it with the clam mixture, ensuring everything is well-mixed.
- Serve immediately, garnishing with extra chopped parsley if desired.