Eating a plate of Spaghetti with Clams is one of the joys of being on vacation in Italy, and as you can see below, it is super easy to make when you get home.... This is a good thing, as clams are nutritional, cancer fighting powerhouses. They outperform steak and liver for iron, and are rich in phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium too. Our North American clams, like most things American, are a little bigger than their Italian counterparts, so for this yummy pasta dish use smaller sized clams like littlenecks. Nonetheless they may still take a little longer to pop open when you cook them, so be patient. The rewards are worth it, and if it’s your tradition, they’re especially good as part of a Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes. And since seafood pastas aren’t traditionally eaten with cheese, if you like, toss the pasta and clams together with a couple of tablespoons of toasted whole wheat breadcrumbs. Enjoy!
Discard any clams with broken shells. Set the remaining clams aside in a cool place.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over a high heat. Add salt to taste. Add the spaghetti and cook 1 minute less than the packet directions. Reserving 1 cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta and set aside until you are ready.
Meanwhile in a large pot with a tight fitting lid, heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. When it starts to ripple add the shallots and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cayenne if using and cook until the garlic just starts to color, about 1-2 minutes.
Add the lemon-water mixture and a generous pinch of salt, cook until reduced slightly. Add the clams and the chopped parsley. Close the lid and cook the clams over a high heat, shaking the pan until all they are all open, and have given up their liquor, about 3-5 minutes. Discard any that remain tightly closed. (see Ann’s Tips)
Add the reserved pasta to the clams and toss to mix. Add a little of the reserved pasta water if there isn’t much liquid – there should be just enough to cling generously to the pasta,. Cook 1 minute more, tossing the pasta all the while. Serve immediately with an empty bowl for the shells. Eat with a simple green salad on the side, and keep some crispy fresh bread on hand to mop up any sauce.
When shopping for clams, try to get them all about the same size for even cooking time. Choose clams with grey, tightly shut shells (whitish shells are a sign of age). Knock two together: if they sound like steel balls clacking, they’re fresh, if hollow then they’re old.
When cooking clams, if any remain stubbornly and tightly closed once all the others have opened, discard them. They won’t affect the rest of the dish.
Although most shell fish is sold cleaned, I like to let clams and mussels soak in briny iced water for 30 minutes or so before I cook them. This dislodges any sand on the shells and encourages them to spit out any that may be inside. To do this, add a little hot water to a couple of teaspoons of sea salt to dissolve it then add 4-6 cups of cold water and some ice. Swish it around then add the clams, discarding any with broken shells. Leave to sit in a cool place for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse before using.