Spaghetti alle vongole

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INGREDIENTS (4 people)

360g spaghetti (or linguine)
1 kg clams
16 cherry tomatoes
3 anchovy fillets
100 ml dry white wine (optional)
3 garlic cloves, minced
Finely chopped parsley

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Basic Techniques needed:
Clams
How to cook pasta

Spaghetti alle Vongole is a very simple dish that will definitely impress your guests.
Follow this process and you will get the true taste of the sea:

  1.  Mince the garlic and chop the parsley
  2. Steam the clams (see Clams for details):
    Thoroughly wash the shells, discarding any broken ones
    Steam in a pan, lid on, until they open up
    Discard the shells that didn’t open
    Filter the liquid
  3. Shell about half of the clams, leaving the other half in the shell
  4. Peel the tomatoes: prick their skin with the tip of a knife and plunge them into the bolilng water in the pot you will use for the pasta, then put them in a bowl filled with cold (better iced) water;
  5. In 2 tbsp. olive oil, shallow fry the minced garlic on very low heat, being very careful it doesn’t get brown (burnt garlic will ruin your dish), about 1 minute, then add the anchovy fillets
  6. When the anchovy fillets have dissolved into the oil, add the liquid from the clams and 100 ml water or white wine if using it;
  7. Peel the tomatoes, quarter them and add them to the sauce; cook on low heat
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  8. When the liquid has reduced to 1/3, add the clams, including the shelled ones
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  9. Cook the pasta in plenty of salty water (see How to cook pasta)
  10. Add the sauce to the cooked pasta, sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and serve
    TIP: instead of cooking the pasta completely, drain it a couple of minutes before the cooking time indicated on the packaging and finish it off with the sauce, adding a few tbsp. of its cooking water to prevent it form becoming too dry; the pasta will absorb all the flavours. NOTE: in this case, add the clams at the very end to avoid overcooking them

Clams

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Clams (vongole in Italian) are a type of bivalve, extremely popular in Italian cuisine thanks to their intense but yet delicate flavour, and the fact that they require minimal manipulation and still provide fantastic results.

We have seen How to steam mussels , and the process for clams is very similar, what changes is essentially the way they need to be cleaned in order to get rid of all the sand and other impurities that you will find as they burrow under the sea floor.
Also, ask your fishmonger if they have already been purged (normally it is the case); if not, put them in a bowl filled with salty water and let them sit for several hours to expel all the grit and sand. Once that your clams have been purged, this is the process to follow:

  1. Put the clams in a large bowl and fill it with cold water
  2. Rub them between the palms of your hand as in the picture. Don’t be too gentle, you will need a bit of force:
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  3. You will see that the water becomes cloudy:
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  4. Change the water and repeat the operation several times until the water stays clear after rubbing the shells:
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    NOTE: some suggest to rub the shells with a stiff brush; that method works well with larger clams but the one I use works better for smaller ones, which are the ones I normally cook
  5. Discard all the broken shells and the ones that are not tightly closed
  6. Put them in a pan large enough to allow some extra room as the shells will open up and the overall volume will increase; add a splash of water (or white wine if you prefer). You can also add some crushed garlic if you like it.
  7. Cook on medium-high heat, with the lid on, for a few minutes, until they open up. NOTE: as usual with fish and seafood, overcooking is the most common mistake, so you should really pay attention and make sure that you take them off the heat as soon as they open up, otherwise they will shrink and will become tough and rubbery.
  8. Let them cool down with the lid on if not using immediately
  9. Discard all the shells that did not open up
  10. Using a colander lined with muslin cloth, strain the liquid released by the clams; you want to use it in your recipe as it’s packed with flavour.

Razor Clams

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Razor clams owe their English name to their resemblance to the handle of an old fashioned straight razor, whilst they are called cannolicchi in Italian because their shape is also similar a small cane -canna in Italian (in fact, another name is bamboo clam).

Razor clams live in the sand in the seashore and, although not often commercially fished (mainly because they are quite difficult to catch due fact that they can burrow incredibly quickly in mud or sand soil), they are regarded as a delicacy.

Compared to other shellfish such as cockles and clams, or mussels, they have a sweeter, less salty and more delicate flavour, that makes them one of my favourites, something that I always buy when they are available

They are very simple to prepare too, are good both cold and warm, and can be the main ingredient of a quick and tasty pasta dish or a delicious salad.

See below how to prepare them:

  1. First, rinse them in running water
  2. Put them in a pan with a splash of water (I suggest you don’t use white wine as they will be ready very quickly and there would be no time to cook off the alcohol) and cover
  3. Cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes until the shells open up
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  4. Once opened you will just need to discard the dark sac you will find in the middle of the clam (I assume it’s the stomach but I do not have any scientific knowledge to support this statementt), as it’s normally very gritty
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  5. As usual with shellfish, filter the liquid they have released as it’s packed with flavour and you should use it in your recipe