Make Linguine with Clam Sauce to Liven Up Pasta Night

There’s a reason for the expression “happy as a clam.”

Vertical overhead closely cropped image of a bowl of pasta and clams with chopped herbs and grated cheese, with a pot containing more of the dish at the top of the frame, printed with orange and white text at the midpoint and the bottom, on a gray speckled background.

I mean, wouldn’t you be thrilled if someone tossed you in a garlicky pool of white wine and then wound you up inside a forkful of pasta?

Yeah. Same.

Cooking with clams can seem somewhat intimidating – particularly if you’re unfamiliar with eating this seasonal specialty. It’s like, why can’t I see the part I’m actually going to consume? What thoughts are going on inside of that shell’s head?

Or… body.

Vertical overhead image of pasta noodles with clams in a white bowl, garnished with chopped herbs and grated cheese, on a black and white background.

In my opinion, they are actually one of the easiest varieties of seafood to prepare. They’re one of the only proteins that comes with a built-in timer.

Throw a piece of halibut into a cast iron pan and wait for it to say, “Okay, take me out of the pan now!” It won’t happen. No response. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Talking to fish will get you nowhere.

But cover of a pile of clams in a garlic-scented bath of oil, citrus, and wine, and in just under ten minutes (occasionally with a delightful “pop!” sound), the mollusks will present their ready-to-be-consumed bodies to you.

They also release a tasty amount of liquid as they steam, so their shells are like tiny holders for seafood stock.

All of this sounds fancy, I know. But the best part is that it’s really not.

Vertical image of cooked noodles plated in a spiral with cooked clams and grated cheese and chopped herbs on top, in a white bowl, with a black background.

So now that we’ve discussed how ridiculously easy it is to make mollusks the star of your meal, let’s move onto the rest of the cast and discuss the title of the show.

If you’ve ever been confused about the difference between linguine with clams and linguine with clam sauce, you’re not alone. I went digging for answers (not for the mollusks – I got those from the fish market) and came to the following conclusion:

It’s all one and the same.

“Linguine con le Vongole” is the official Italian name for this dish that marries pasta and seafood. We all know what linguine means, and vongole denotes pasta served with clams and a light sauce of olive oil, garlic, white wine, and parsley.

So, whether you call it linguine with clams, linguine with the sauce, linguine con le vongole, or Little Red Riding Hood, it’s the same group of players grabbing onto your fork in the same delightful way.

Vertical overhead image of a small nest of cooked noodles with clams in a white bowl, garnished with finely grated hard cheese and minced fresh herbs, on a multicolored cloth on a brown wood surface.

Except for that last part. I made that up. Little Red Riding Hood is already taken.

The main variation I discovered in different versions of this recipe was essentially the amount of garlic used. The sauce is always an olive oil base and calls for a dry white wine, lemon, parsley, and a dusting of sharp Italian cheese. Some recipes called for four cloves of garlic, while some suggested twelve.

I guess it depends on if you’re preparing the meal for yourself and your cats, or for a first date.

In my case, I whipped this dish up for my pasta-obsessed husband who thinks that garlic and olive oil are the only two ingredients we have in our kitchen.

Horizontal overhead image of pasta and clams with grated cheese and finely minced herbs in a white bowl, with a gray background.

I used one of my favorite noodle tricks of reserving some of the pasta water and it worked like a charm. The starchy cooking liquid helps the buttery sauce cling onto the linguine like a boss.

You don’t want to water the sauce down too much, though, so only a few tablespoons are required to achieve this effect. I also love to serve a few of the mollusks still in their shells simply for presentation.

You could certainly leave all of them in their shells, but my husband calls that “working for his dinner,” so I would suggest removing the majority of them.

Also, when you use the meat solo as part of the tossing process, you get the added bonus of the tender morsels tangling with the pasta strands and that makes every bite even richer.

Vertical image of cooked clams with pasta, garnished with fresh herbs and grated hard cheese, in a white bowl on a white background.

When it comes to garnishing with Parmesan, you can never have enough, so I like to keep a full ramekin on the table for those who share my cheesy belief system.

Enough chit-chat. Grab your forks, get to twirling, and you’ll be happy as a clam in no time.

Print
Horizontal image of a next of cooked pasta with clams to the left, garnished with grated cheese and chopped herbs, in a white bowl.

Linguine with Clam Sauce


  • Author: Fanny Slater
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

Looking to liven up your pasta night? Twirl up linguine with a savory, briny fresh clam sauce dotted with fresh parsley and Parmesan.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 pound linguine 
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds fresh clams (such as Manila or littleneck), scrubbed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine 
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan, divided

Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, and reserve about 2 tablespoons of the starchy cooking water before you drain it.
  2. In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until lightly golden, about 45 seconds. Add the clams, and stir until coated with the garlic oil, about 1 minute.
  3. Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the wine and lemon juice, and cover the pan. Simmer until the shells open, about 6-8 minutes, making sure to discard any that don’t open.
  4. Remove them from the pan, and set them aside to cool slightly. Remove about 3/4 of the clams from their shells and set the meat aside. If they are big, rough chop the meat into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
  5. Reduce the cooking liquid by about half in volume, and then whisk in the butter. Add the pasta, starchy cooking water, salt, pepper, shelled clams, parsley, and 4 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Toss to coat, and season to taste with additional salt if necessary.
  6. Divide the pasta, clams, and sauce among 4 bowls and top with even amounts of the remaining clams in their shells, olive oil, and Parmesan. Serve immediately.

  • Category: Pasta
  • Method: stovetop
  • Cuisine: Dinner

Keywords: seafood, pasta, linguine, clams, garlic, lemon, white wine

Cooking by the Numbers…

Step 1 – Cook the Pasta and Chop the Garlic

Horizontal image of raw noodles that have just been added to a black nonstick pot of boiling water on a gas stove.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, and reserve about 2 tablespoons of the starchy cooking water before you drain it in your favorite colander. This liquid will help the sauce cling to the pasta.

Horizontal overhead closely cropped image of a chartreuse metal colander filled halfway with freshly cooked yellow pasta.

Thinly slice the garlic.

Step 2 – Make the Garlic Oil

Closeup horizontal image of thinly sliced garlic and red pepper flakes cooking in oil in a frying pan.

In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until very lightly golden, about 45 seconds.

Step 3 – Cook the Mollusks

Brown uncooked whole clams in a frying pan.

Add the mollusks, and stir until coated with the garlic oil, about 1 minute. Turn the heat to medium-high, add the wine and lemon juice, and cover the pan.

Horizontal image of open clam shells with cooked shellfish inside, cooking in liquid in a large frying pan.

Simmer until the shells open, about 6-8 minutes, making sure to discard any of them that don’t open. If they are big, they may take up to 10 minutes to cook.

Step 4 – Chop

Remove from the pan, and set them aside to cool slightly. Remove about 3/4 of them from their shells and set the meat aside. If you have larger ones, rough chop the meat.

Step 5 – Reduce the Sauce

Horizontal image of butter melting in a pan of liquid with thinly sliced garlic and red pepper flakes, in a large frying pan on a beige speckled countertop.

Reduce the cooking liquid by about half its volume, and then whisk in the unsalted butter.

Step 6 – Add the Pasta and Meat to the Sauce

Horizontal head-on image of cooked pasta with clams in liquid in a large frying pan.

Add the pasta, starchy cooking water, salt, pepper (freshly ground is best!), shelled meat, parsley, and 4 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Toss to coat, and season to taste with additional salt if necessary.

Horizontal image of grated cheese, chopped herbs, and cooked clams on cooked linguine in a large frying pan.

Divide the pasta, meat, and sauce among 4 bowls and top with even amounts of the remaining mollusks in their shells, olive oil, and Parmesan. Serve immediately.

An Elegant Meal that Requires Licking the Plate.

This sophisticated Italian dish may seem best served with white linen napkins and candles, but this pasta dish tastes just as good when cozied up to on couch with a loaf of crusty bread and a side of Netflix.

Horizontal image of a next of cooked pasta with clams to the left, garnished with grated cheese and chopped herbs, in a white bowl.

No matter how you spin it onto your fork, once you see how easily this briny, refreshing seafood pasta comes together, you’ll become a clam connoisseur.

Need more inspiration for when seafood season hits? Dive into this ocean-sourced fare:

I adore a hint of crunch with my pasta, and toasted breadcrumbs add a crispy layer to every buttery bite. How do you sneak in some extra texture to your favorite dishes?

Share your secrets in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.

Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on April 25, 2011. Last updated: July 14, 2019 at 18:54 pm.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

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About Fanny Slater

Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”

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