My mother used to make spaghetti with clam sauce using clams from a can and plenty of bacon to liven things up. But clam spaghetti day was never a favorite among the Alt children, and I blame it on those canned clams. The problem with them is that during the canning process, they get cooked. Overcooked, that is. Open up a can of clams, and you’re already dealing with clams that are rubbery and bland. The only way to truly appreciate clams is to start with fresh live ones (or, at the very least, freshly shucked or frozen clams) and cook them as briefly as possible.
The great thing about fresh, live, in-the-shell clams is that like they make their own sauce when you cook them. All you need is a little bit of stock or wine to get them going, and then the flavorful liquor inside bulks out the rest of your sauce. When you buy fresh clams, make sure that they are either tightly closed or that they clam up when you tap on them. Clams that are gaping open are dead and should be avoided.

NOTE: For best results, use fresh clams. If they are unavailable, you can substitute 12 ounces frozen or canned clams, thawed if necessary and drained. Add to the skillet in step 1, along with the wine and butter. Immediately remove from the heat and proceed as directed.


Kosher salt
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 medium cloves garlic, 4 smashed and left whole, 4 finely sliced, 4 minced or grated on a Microplane
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter
2 pounds littleneck clams
1 pound linguine
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest and 1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
1.  Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Heat the oil and 4 smashed garlic cloves in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until the garlic cloves are gently sizzling. Reduce the heat to medium-low and sizzle until the garlic is golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Discard the garlic cloves, leaving the oil in the skillet, and return the pan to high heat. Add the sliced garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the garlic just begins to turn pale golden brown, about 45 seconds. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, butter, and clams, cover, and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the clams open, about 6 minutes. Transfer the clams to a bowl, and set the sauce aside.

2.  Cook the pasta in the boiling water until it fully softened but retains a slight bite in the center (about 1 minute less than the package recommends after the pasta reaches a boil). Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of cooking liquid, and return to the pot set over medium-low heat.
3.  Pour the sauce over the pasta, add half of reserved pasta water, and stir until the sauce comes together and coats the pasta, about 2 minutes, adding more pasta water as necessary until the desired consistency is reached. Stir in the clams, parsley, and lemon zest and juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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