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Pasta with Clams in White Wine Garlic Sauce {Pasta alle Vongole}

Pasta with Clams in White Wine Garlic Sauce, a new take on the classic Spaghetti alle Vongole made with bucatini and littleneck clams in a white wine garlic sauce.

Cooking with bivalves like clams and mussels intimidates people. I know this because I myself was intimidated to cook with them not very long ago. While I love ordering pasta with clams or steamed mussels in white wine sauce at restaurants, I was always nervous to cook with them at home because I couldn’t get past the fact that, yes, they are alive.

But then I came to the realization that if I am going to continue on in life as an eater of fish and meat that it’s either me or someone else who will be taking the lives of my clams and mussels, so why not woman up and take responsibility? I am a big proponent of not sticking one’s head in the sand when it comes to how our food finds its way to our plates so I decided to bite the bullet and get over my fears of cooking with live seafood.

Pasta with clams in a white plate on a black table.

Have I turned you off on this pasta with clams recipe yet? If you’re still here, then I’m proud of you. You’re ready to learn how to make pasta with clams.

Bucatini with Clams: My Take on the Classic Spaghetti alle Vongole

This Pasta with Clams in White Wine Garlic Sauce is my own personal take on the Italian classic, Spaghetti alle Vongole, or “Spaghetti with Clams.” The first time I had spaghetti alle vongole was my first trip to Italy with a girlfriend (before I met my Italian husband) and we enjoyed our seafood pasta along the Grand Canal in Venice with a bottle of white wine. It was the first time I traveled outside of the country and I was instantly enamored with Italian food, Italian wine, and Italian culture.

The love for a certain Italian man came only one year later, but that’s a story for another day.

The traditional Spaghetti alle Vongole recipe is made with, you guessed it, spaghetti. But since I’m in the throes of a passionate love affair with bucatini at the moment (two years ago it was farfalle, penne two years before that) most of my recipes revolve around the thicker bucatini noodle (see exhibit A: Aglio, Oglio, é Peperoncino).

I love bucatini in a light pasta made with fresh seafood and white wine sauce because it’s a sturdy noodle that provides structure to a pasta with sparse toppings. The real hero here is not the clams, showstoppers that they are, but the perfectly al dente noodles of bucatini and that provide a slight crunch in a seafood pasta that is not smothered in cream (don’t get Francesco started on his severe hatred of what we Americans call “alfredo sauce”).

Clams in a silver metal strainer on a table next to parsley and bucatini pasta.

How to Prepare Clams for Cooking: Soaking and Cleaning

If you have ventured into cooking with mussels and clams, you’ll know that if you do not soak them ahead of time that you will likely end up with a few sand granules in your pasta. If you’re like me and don’t enjoy munching on sand with your pasta then your best bet is to soak your clams ahead of time to make sure they release all of their sand.

To soak clams or mussels, place them in a large bowl full of cold(ish) water with a dissolved salt (about ½ teaspoon for a very large bowl will work, it’s not vital to have a perfect salt to water ratio). Allow clams to soak for about ten to fifteen minutes and then remove them and dump water. You will likely see a bit of sand at the bottom of the water when you remove the clams, this is good and means the clams are filtering the sand and sediment through the water. Refill and repeat the soaking until you do not see any more sand.

Also make sure the clam shells are clean and free from dirt and mud before cooking. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of San Francisco Bay sediment in my pasta. Any clams that are open and do not close when flicked or tapped should be discarded, as they are likely already dead and are not safe to eat. Healthy clams will close when tapped.

Pasta witch clams on a wood table with a glass of white wine.

Pasta with Clams: Variations & Flavor Suggestions

Pasta with Clams is a great foundational recipe that can be substituted with any number of different pasta and fresh seafood. Not into bucatini? Go traditional with spaghetti or choose cavatappi for a completely different pasta texture. Substitute clams for mussels or add shrimp to make a pasta with seafood double whammy. Try basil instead of parsley, switch up type of white wine used, or even add a bit of parmesan and cream to thicken the sauce.

The pasta-bilities are endless! (I had to).

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Pasta with Clams in White Wine Garlic Sauce {Pasta alle Vongole}

Pasta with Clams in White Wine Garlic Sauce, a new take on the classic Spaghetti alle Vongole made with bucatini and littleneck clams in a white wine garlic sauce.

Pasta with Clams in White Wine Garlic Sauce, a new take on the classic Spaghetti alle Vongole made with bucatini and littleneck clams in a white wine garlic sauce.

  • Author: Kristina Todini
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings

Instructions

  1. Boil pasta according to package directions in lightly salted water until al dente, about 8 minutes. My best advice for getting perfectly al dente pasta as an American married to an Italian is that if it seems like it needs just a bit longer, then its done. Reserve about ½ cup of pasta water.
  2. In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook about 1-2 minutes or until garlic gives off a strong aroma. Add white wine and cook until the liquid starts to boil, then add clams to pan. Cook over medium heat until all clams open wide.
  3. When pasta has been drained, add to pan with clams and sauce and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Add a small amount of the pasta water to the white wine garlic sauce and mix well before removing from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste and fresh parsley, stirring to combine and then serve immediately with a fresh squeeze of lemon.

Notes

Leftovers & Storage: Pasta can be refrigerated and consumed up to four days after making, however remove clam meat from shells before reheating. Do not freeze, pasta will not retain its texture and flavor will be lost when reheating.

Tools Used: Pasta with Clams is a very low maintenance dish, but I used this Ecolution eco-friendly pan and this collapsable colander (because I live in a tiny San Francisco kitchen).

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 serving
  • Calories: 390

Pasta with clams on a white plate on a black table next to a bunch of parley.

Loving this Pasta with Clams recipe? Try another my Summer Shrimp and Vegetable Pasta (using fresh seasonal produce), my weekday lunch favorite Enoki Mushroom Orzo Salad, or go hearty with my Mushroom and Pea Risotto with White Truffle Oil. Comfort food at its finest!

Are there any foods you’ve been intimidated by in the past but now you’ve mastered? Let me know how you conquered your fears in the comments below!

Pasta with Clams in White Wine Garlic Sauce, a new take on the classic Spaghetti alle Vongole made with bucatini and littleneck clams in a white wine garlic sauce.
Written by
Kristina Todini, RDN

Welcome! I'm a registered dietitian who believes that food should be good for you AND good for the planet. Join me in taking the "fork in the road" to eat green and live sustainably.

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14 comments
  • Great post! I grew up with all kinds of sea creatures and offal, so nothing really intimidates me. However, I know many are intimidated by sea creatures. This post is very informative, and encouraging! And the Pasta With Clams looks and sounds amazing!

    • I grew up in the middle of the country and I didn’t like fish until my early 20’s, so it was definitely a new experience to cook with them! But it always feels good to add a new dish (and kitchen skill) to my list. Thanks for stopping by!

  • I’ve never cooked with live seafood before, but I can definitely get down on some clams (and/or mussels) in white wine garlic sauce. I usually just dip a bunch of bread into the sauce once I devour the seafood, but pasta is a PERFECT vessel to get more white wine, garlic, and clams into my mouth. I can’t wait to try this out!

    • Oh yes, bread is not optional in a delicious sauce like this. Maybe I need to add a cioppino recipe soon, THAT is my favorite recipe for a good bread-dipping experience.

  • I’m definitely intimidated by mussels and clams but I have been wanting to try them! I used to be intimidated by french macarons but got over that by just deciding that they didn’t have to turn out perfectly for me to enjoy them!

    • They don’t have to look perfect to be tasty! It’s all a journey, I used to be intimidated by a lot of foods that now are staples in my house. It’s all about learning and gaining new kitchen skills.

  • I’m with you on Italy. . .it’s such a lovely country and the food is about as good as it gets (I’m still dreaming about that homemade Caprese Ravioli that I had on Capri). This delicious looking pasta is certainly making me yearn for another trip.

    • You have dreams about the food you’ve eaten as well? I have a list of about five foods I dream of on the regular. (Which gives me an excuse to book a trip from time to time).

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