Saturday, August 20, 2011

Weekend Cooking... Spaghetti con Sugo di Vongole

My first meal in Venice, lunch the day we arrived, was one of my favorites of the whole trip, spaghetti with clam sauce. Of course, we started with a nice antipasti, lovely, paper thing slices of meats and cheese, and a little bowl of pickled vegetables. Some wine, some sparkling water, some bread..and then the lovely spaghetti, simple and delicious with dozen of tiny clam, garlic and some parsley. Excellent. And of course, the view as we sat at the restaurant on the Giudecca canal, feet from the water, did not hurt.

But now I am home and decided to see if I could recreate a version of the dish as good as the Venetian one. So, I turned to I would consider a good source for authentic Italian food, Lidia Bastianich. Especially when i saw her make her version on her TV show on PBS recently. She makes a couple of additions I would never have thought of, like the orange juice and the marinated artichoke hearts, but both worked out very well I thought. In the past, I have added some lemon juice, but the orange is better, adding a little citrus taste without being too strong for the delicate taste like lemon can be. And while I am not a huge fan of marinated artichoke hearts ordinarily, I loved the slightly salty marinate flavor and the nice texture.

Spaghetti con Sugo di Vongole   
serves 6

This is a very flavorful rendition of pasta and clam sauce, a bit more complex than the one Aunt Anna made for me on my first visit to Le Marche. It can also be made with other seafood, such as shrimps or calamari, in place of the clams-just keep in mind the varying cooking times of whatever shellfish you use. If you are not in the mood for seafood, omit it altogether and double the artichokes. And who is to say that you can't do this recipe with chicken breast? Just add slivers of breast meat before the artichokes, cook and stir for a few minutes, then proceed with the basic recipe.


  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • juice of 1 orange, freshly squeezed (about 1/4 cup)
  • 36 littleneck clams, scrubbed, rinsed, and drained
  • kosher salt, for the pasta cooking water
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Pour the olive oil into the saucepan, and set it over medium-high heat. Toss in the garlic slices, and heat and stir for a minute or so, until sizzling. Drop in the artichokes, stir, and season with the peperoncino and oregano. When the artichoke slices are sizzling, pour in the wine and orange juice, and heat to a boil.

Immediately dump in the clams, shake the pan to spread them evenly over the bottom, and put on the cover. Adjust the heat to keep the liquid at a steady simmer, and cook just until the clamshells open, 5 minutes or so. Remove open clams to a colander set in a bowl; cook any tightly closed clams a bit longer, about 3 minutes. When all the clams are out of the pan and draining, turn off the heat (and discard any shellfish that have not opened at all).

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil (6 quarts, with a tablespoon of kosher salt).

Shake the clams in the colander to collect all their juices in the bowl below, and pour this liquid back into the saucepan. Bring the clam juices to a boil over medium-high heat, and reduce to a thin sauce consistency (turn off the heat before it gets thick). Meanwhile, pluck the cooled clam meat from the shells, and chop it finely.

Now cook the spaghetti-if you're in a hurry, it can cook at the same time as you reduce the sauce and shuck and chop the clams. Have the clam cooking sauce barely simmering in the pan, and stir in the chopped clams just before the spaghetti is al dente.

Lift the cooked pasta from the pot, let it drain briefly, drop it into the saucepan, and toss well until all the strands are nicely coated with clam sauce. Sprinkle on the chopped parsley, toss again, and serve the pasta right away in warm bowls.

A couple of tips.
Before you drain the al dente pasta..and you want to drain it and add it to the sauce when just a little underdone, as it will finish in the a couple of cups of the pasta water in a bowl to thin out the sauce if needed.

And I also absolutely recommend that you steam the calms separately and then add them into the sauce. Lidia did it on the TV show and I am not sure why she did not suggest it here. Clams can be sandy inside and there is no way to know. So, I put a little bit of wine in the pan in which I would later make the sauce, brought it to a boil, threw in the clams, covered and cooked until they opened, starting at about 4 minutes and give them to about 7-8 minutes to open or discard. Happily only one did not open. Then, I remove them to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving all their liquid in the pan and then strained the liquid through a coffee filter. You could also use cheesecloth. There was a fair bit of sand, and you do not want that in the dish! I also chopped some of the clams but left about half whole, since they were nice and small, and left a few in the shells to serve, because I think they look nice.
Give the pan a quick rinse, continue on with the recipe, and you will soon be in Clam Heaven.

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


  1. Oh, my mouth is watering reading this. That'll teach me to read recipes before breakfast! Sounds just wonderful, Caite. You're right about that view; it would add something special to any meal.

  2. Oh man. Now I'm craving clams and pasta. OMG this sounds perfect. And I totally agree about cooking the clams separately -- no matter how much you scrub, you're going to get sand.

  3. I never would have thought to add the orange juice. I have to try that :)
    What a lovely glad you had such a wonderful time.

  4. Yum, this sounds so incredible! I'm not certain I can get littleneck clams where I am, but will have to try this soon with mussels (which we can get.)

    Also, hoorah for Lidia and Venice!!!

  5. This does sound great :) In fact I made my own pasta sauce last week for the very first time!

  6. Wow, definitely makes me want to go to Venice. Or your house. wherever...

  7. It was great with clams, but no question, it would be great with mussels..or crab...or squid...hmmmm.

  8. Wow, Caite. What a wonderful way to keep that special experience in Venice alive back home. I also love your photos whether it's places you've been or the food you make.

  9. Ah, I always think that eating vongole must be such a nice thing (esp. in Venice), but unfortunately I don't like them at all.
    But it is great that you are bringing your memories back with a special dish.

  10. What a great thing to do! I bet it might be good even without the clams. :<)

  11. I've never had clams this way - may have to try it!

  12. Hmm, that pasta looks just beautiful in the pan with the coriander!

  13. Pasta with clams is one of my absolute favorites -- and something that I don't make very often anymore, since I don't live near the water. Your recipe sounds delicious!

  14. Sounds delicious. I just ate a salad and called it that!

    Wonderful photos. Dreamy!

  15. I'm so jealous...I want to be in Venice- eating anything, really...but especially this ;D

  16. This sounds so yummy although I would make it with shrimp instead of clams. I wonder though if it would be tasty with thinly sliced Italian sausage as well. Hmmmm, I just finished dinner but now I'm getting hungry again.

  17. I love that you were able to take inspiration from a trip and get yourself to clam heaven!

  18. Con vongole is one of my favorite just solved the "what's for dinner?" dilemma. Yummy recipe, yummy post.

  19. I make a version of this every now and then for my husband. We love it. After reading your story and seeing your pictures, it's time to make it again!

  20. Sounds delicious. I haven't made pasta with clam sauce for ages.

  21. Hmmm this recipe looks so delicious and nice and i think that fits perfect with my taste and in my opinion is a very easy recipe, so i think i will try it. Thanks for sharing.


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