Spaghetti Alle Vongole / Spaghetti With Clams

While traveling in Italy, we enjoyed many fresh seafood dishes that were simply prepared. One such classic dish was spaghetti alle vongole, Italian for spaghetti with clams. This dish will vary through the regions, cities and restaurants but always includes just a few ingredients. One thing is a constant…it is simple, fast and delicious. The briny juices, tender sweet clam meat, garlic, and olive oil combine into one truly delectable dish.

Spaghetti alle Vongole

Spaghetti alle Vongole

  • 1/2 lb. spaghetti
  • 16 – 22 small fresh clams, (if fresh, purged and cleaned) or frozen
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped fine
  • 3 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. anchovy paste
  • 1/2 c. dry white wine
  • 1 bottle (8 oz.) clam juice
  • 1 small can minced clams
  • 1/2 tsp. or to taste chili flakes
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh oregano

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the spaghetti.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and anchovy paste and stir until combined, about 1 minute. Add the wine and let reduce. Add the clam juice and clams. Cover the pot and steam for about 3 minutes until clams open. Remove the clams with a slotted spoon to a bowl and cover.

Add the minced clams, chili flakes and butter. Sprinkle the flour over the sauce and stir. Cook for several minutes until slightly thickened.

When the pasta is al dente, add to the sauce (saving a cup of pasta water). Add the parsley and oregano and toss well. Add a little pasta water if the pasta appears dry. Plate and garnish with the whole clams.

Italians do not think that cheese should be added to this or any seafood dish. We have been to restaurants in Italy where waiters have actually refused to bring cheese to customers who asked for it on a seafood dish. We were with friends that insisted on cheese and the waiter refused. Not only refused but said that our friend could leave the restaurant if he wasn’t happy.

If you would like to add fresh grated cheese to this dish, I will turn my head. Just don’t ask for it in Italy.

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I travel the back roads of the world, sharing great food and interesting places and enjoyable pastimes.

108 thoughts on “Spaghetti Alle Vongole / Spaghetti With Clams

  1. A very timely recipe as I have leftover dry sparkling wine in the fridge and clams in my freezer. 🙂 No anchovy paste though … it is a puzzlement.

    1. Hi Boleyn, I’m happy that this recipe was timely. I keep a tube of anchovy paste in my refrigerator instead of canned anchovies as I like the added flavor it adds to certain recipes. Don’t worry about not having any anchovy in the recipe…it will still be delicious and authentic.

      1. I could probably hunt down some anchovy paste the next time I hit the Italian grocery store nearby, or even a regular grocery store, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t get much use in the future. And, I bought some capers (along with arborio rice and porcini mushrooms) as part of my introduction of new ingredients into my repertoire which I have to start using.

        Instead of using the butter and flour as thickener, can I just splash in some whipping cream, I wonder?

      2. If you do manage to get hold of some anchovy paste, it’s very good in savoury meat dishes (just a little squirt). I use it all the time – yesterday I put a little in a beef cheek casserole (you can’t taste the fish when cooked) 😉

      3. I Agree Mad Dog. I keep a tube of anchovy paste in my refrigerator at all times. It adds a lot of flavor to so many dishes. People think it will make something fishy but it doesn’t. It just creates a depth of flavor. I bet you beef cheek casserole was delicious.

      4. If that’s the same principle as using the fermented fish sauce in Thai cooking, could I use THAT instead of the anchovy paste? 🙂

      5. I wouldn’t use fish sauce in this recipe. The anchovy paste was an addition that I learned about while traveling in Italy but is not used that often. You will have an authentic Italian recipe whether or not you use anchovy.

  2. oh my… can’t believe you did these! they truly look wonderful.
    spaghetti alle vongole are one of my favorite pasta dishes but… you know what?
    I am afraid of clams 🙂 I mean, fresh clams. Each time I try to get them I never manage to let the sand go away completely and I end up having sandy pasta. such. frozen ones are just not the same…

    1. Hi Barbara, Thank you for your nice comment. If you worry about sand…try this. Scrub clams well and put in a bowl of salted water for two hours. Carefully lift them out and wash again. Put the clams in a hot, dry skillet, cover and steam for two minutes until clams have just opened. Lift out and strain their broth through a coffee filter. Your clams should be clean and the both sand free. Just add the clams to the recipe to warm.

  3. About 2 weeks ago, I “discovered” a fish monger not far from here and I walked out of the shop with a sack o’ clams. I love this dish and, when lucky enough to find myself in Italy, I’ll order it again and again, taking full advantage of the tiny, sweet Mediterranean clams.
    Great recipe. Great photo. Great post!

  4. Thank you for the cream substitution go-ahead, Karen. 🙂 As someone commented, frozen clams aren’t the same as fresh ones but, I have them already and other than clam chowder, this sounds like it would be a great dish to try. As well as the ‘red’ version of this dish.

    1. You are welcome, Boleyn. If you have a good source for frozen clams, I would use them. Yes, fresh is always best but are not always available to people. I think there are good and bad frozen products and you just need to experiment sometimes.

  5. I completely agree with the Italians and don’t think that cheese belongs with anywhere near seafood. What a beautiful dish you have prepared here. In my opinion the best dishes are the simple ones.

    1. Hi Lea Ann, Thank you for your nice compliment. I hope you get to Italy and just remember no cheese. Actually, at most restaurants the waiter will come to grate fresh cheese on the dishes that they think need it. It they don’t offer…it usually means they think it is perfect the way it is.

  6. When Steve and I first met, he knew how to make 2 dishes and one was linguini with clams (albeit, in those days, canned ones). And, despite what the true Italians think, it’s good with cheese on it! Yours looks great.

    1. Hi Michelle, Thank you for your compliment. Fresh clams are always the best (if available) but you can make a very good dish with canned or frozen clams as well.

    1. Hi Linda, If you can’t get fresh or frozen baby clams, you can add a can of baby clams. It won’t have quite the same taste and certainly not the texture but you will still have a great dish. Believe me, many Italian restaurants are using canned chopped clams when they serve this dish.

    1. Thank you so much Julie for your very nice compliment. It really is a great dish. I have been told that the flavor of the cheese is too strong for the delicate flavor of fish. I know that there are many in our country that might disagree. As I said, I’ll turn my head if you want to grate fresh cheese over the dish…just don’t let any Italian know what you do.

  7. Oh, your dish looks so great Karen – I think my wife would love this. I just need to pay a visit to a fishmonger – I found one the other day so finally I might be able to get some clams! Thanks for sharing this beautiful dish 🙂

    1. Hi Bonnie, Try finding frozen clams if fresh are out of range price wise. Believe me, if you make this recipe with canned baby clams it will still be good. Some ingredients are difficult to find or so expensive that we have to make substitutions. It was like when I made the “pot roast osso bucco style“. Veal for the same dish was $l5.00 a pound more than the chuck I used. The end result was great.

  8. My mouth is officially watering Karen. I love clams in pasta. Given how much the kids love mussels, I’m betting that they would enjoy this too.

  9. It looks so fresh, sweet, light–it’s one of those dishes that brings pasta to its relatively stripped-down (not over-dressed) finest without sacrificing any complexity and subtlety. Definitely a keeper.

  10. This is the most complex recipe for spaghetti with clam sauce that I have ever seen: the anchovy paste and onion must add depth to it — I am in the habit of cooking it only with olive oil, clams, garlic and parsley because that’s how someone showed me how to make it.

  11. As a child on our frequent visits to family in Italy I ALWAYS ordered this dish – it was my absolute favourite. And, being a little one, a blind eye was turned if I wanted to smother it in parmesan! Gorgeous recipe, should make it here as we have lovely clams available.

    1. Hi Tanya, Thank you for your nice comment. Waiters do turn a blind eye when it comes to little ones. I’m sure they were thrilled that you liked the pasta with clams.

  12. Spaghetti alle vongole! I love it. Yours looks fantastic! I didn’t know anchovy paste was included, but if added in small amounts it is completely invisible, and yet improves taste.
    I totally agree with Italian waiters. Adding grated parmesan or pecorino to all the Italian seafood dishes would be for me like adding coca cola to a glass of good wine! It’s such a pleasure some people don’t accept compromise and weird alterations when it comes to food.

    1. Thank you Sissi, for your nice compliment. Everyone has their own taste when it comes to foods they like. The waiter and our friend that wanted the cheese both thought they were right. I agree with you…parmesan and pecorino have such strong flavors and can mask the delicate flavor of seafood. On the otherside, you see lobster thermador and the new trend of lobster mac and cheese. That is what is nice about cooking at home, we can adapt a recipe to our own tastes.

  13. Absolutely simple and delicious! Looks like a dish made right there in Italy!! I do like to add freshly grated cheese….always at home and never in a restaurant (just because!) My daughter loves this dish and I think I’ll surprise her this weekend when she stops back for a quick visit!!

  14. I would just like to eat all my meals at your house as you do fix dishes with my favorite things. More often than not, I order pasta with seafood whenever it is on the menu at an Italian restaurant. I have to confess though that for me cheese is a must on anything with pasta. I know it’s not always correct, but I have never noticed that it has ruined the taste. Just call me tasteless!

    1. Hi Lulu, I don’t think you are tasteless. Wouldn’t the food world be boring if we all had to eat meals prepared exactly to one person’s standards. If you like cheese, then I say go for it.

  15. What a lovely recipe, Karen. The addition of anchovies sets your recipe apart from so many of the ones out there. This happens to be one of my favorite pastas and I love having a new recipe to use when I make it. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  16. I love pasta with lots of garlic but don’t often add clams or muscles, only because I’m landlocked in AZ and can’t seem to find seafood that tastes good to us. Make do mostly with frozen but crave fresh. 🙂
    Will have to find some clams and do this dish, though. Really sounds good.
    Thanks once again for sharing delicious recipes!! 😀

    1. Hi Zoe, When you can’t find fresh, I like frozen. The frozen clams I get are every bit as good as fresh…very little and tender. I hope you will enjoy the recipe.

  17. Spaghetti with clams are my fave too and anchovy paste is new to me..but am Love the fresh clams in it..the pasta looks so yummy and cheese on seafood…I will def follow it next time

    1. Hi Sukanya, I think you will enjoy trying anchovy paste in recipes. It is not a fishy taste…it just creates a depth in the flavor of the dish. I use it with vegetables, some beef dishes and of course, the classic caesar salad.

  18. This is one of my favorite pasta dishes. I’m going to add the bit of anchovy paste the next time I make it. It can add so much depth to the combined flavors. What a funny story about the cheese. I can picture a waiter doing just that.

    1. Hi Cathy, You can’t believe the scene at the restaurant. I was expecting fisticuffs to break out at any moment. There were six people at our table…all of us not believing what was happening over a plate of pasta with clams.

  19. Dear Karen, I’m filing this recipe away for next week, when my family heads to a beach house in the far north of New Zealand. We’ll be able to dig for clams (called “pipi” here in NZ) at low tide. Must remember to look out for anchovy paste, drives me crazy that my husband cooks lamb rubbed with rosemary, garlic and two anchovies, and then the rest of the tin gets tossed. Cheers from the Antipodes, Karen

  20. Wow! I am not a clam eater but this recipe, description and comments almost make me want to! My husband however is a clam eater and may just benefit from this posting! I learned lots from the ensuring comments and can only say that luckily I an not a fish or seafood eater (with exception of shrimp, lobster and sometimes scallops) and so happily have cheese on every pasta dish!! But with regards to the anchovies and the not using up the whole tin – could you repackage and freeze the ones left from a whole tin? I too have anchovy paste, and I use it sparingly and with caution -so I do not buy the tins.
    Just a thought…I freeze every little scrap of things.

    1. Hi Carol, I hope your husband does benefit from this post. It has been a fun string of comments. That is what is so nice about my wonderful fellow bloggers…you can always have a good dialog. I would think you could fresh the anchovies although I never have tried. Maybe someone will let us know if they have done it and if it was successful.

  21. My husband would be so thrilled if I made this recipe! I don’t think he ever orders anything but linguine with clams when we are in an Italian restaurant, and I wouldn’t have known where to begin with a really good recipe! I’m going to give it a try. The picture says it all! And thanks for the tip about the cheese…I’m quite sure he asks for it every time! Debra

  22. Oooh, this is a perfect pasta dish that my whole family would LOVE (well, minus the very picky teenage son who eats nothing but burgers and fries…well tries to). Your photo is gorgeous and makes me want to reach right in and grab a fork, and a spoon. I twirl you see. Pasta, of course. Not really much of a dancer, more of a faller. Anyhow…this recipe looks lovely and light and full of goodness.

    1. Hi Geni, Thank you for your lovely comments. I twirl (pasta) and am not a great dancer either. I did fix the typo for you. I try to fix them for anyone who leaves a comment as I hope they do mine when I make a typo. I hope the family enjoys the recipe.

  23. This brings back a fond memory of when my son was visiting from the states. Spaghetti and clams was exactly what I was preparing for lunch, and he was simply AMAZED at the clams. What’s the big deal? I ask him. Don’t you have clams at home? Of course I should have already known that the clams he can buy are frozen and not anything like what I get here. His response? Mom, these clams are moving. I’ve just never seen them alive when buying them at a store!

  24. Hi Karen—looks like you really struck a happy chord in the blogosphere with this terrific recipe! My vongole recipe resembles yours–minus the anchovy paste—which I will absolutely have to try. It would indeed add more “umami” to the dish. Happy New Year!

  25. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I notice several of my regular reads have commented, so I’ll add mine – this dish looks awesome.

    1. Hi Larry, Yes I have noticed that we do have some of the same blogger friends. Thank you for your nice compliment. Awesome…I like that.

  26. Hi Karen! Beautiful photo of one of my favorite pasta dishes 🙂 I also recall the taboo of no cheese on seafood dishes in Italy…but alas I am a sucker for freshly grated parmigiano on anything/everything so its good that I’m in the privacy of my home when I do that hehe 😉

  27. Mmmmm, I can smell it right now! I love spaghetti vongole. Every time I see a chef making it on a show I just have to watch, even though I know it’s going to make me hungry lol ~Ruth

  28. Ooooh … vongole! I haven’t made this for a long while …. wonder why? Thanks for the reminder. I even have some leftover white wine (hmm, that’s strange). Getting hungry looking at this … yum!

    1. Hi CHFG, It is a shame that you husband is not a fan of shellfish. Perhaps you could prepare the recipe for the two of you but just not put the clams on his portion. The sauce is very flavorful…maybe it would change his mind.

    1. Hi Judy, The decisions we must make sometimes…I’m sure you will enjoy whichever you prepare. Hubby’s is rich with the sausage and tomato. Mine relies on the flavor from the clams and should be a lighter, fresher flavor. Decisions, decisions….

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