A classic Neapolitan pasta dish, vongole consists of juicy clams, garlic, finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and a healthy slosh of dry white wine. All of these ingredients combine forces with the briny juices of the clams to produce the sea-salt broth sauce. My take on this dish includes ripe cherry tomatoes that soften and add a lovely sweetness to the dish, as well as color.
I stumbled across a charming little restaurant in the picturesque and slightly worn-around-the-edges area of Trastevere in Rome a few summers ago, nestled alongside the river tiber. I sat myself on a little table, completely alone in the sun-kissed courtyard behind the restaurant. Its walls were lined with ivy and sprawling flowers, birds chirped joyfully. The waiter was pleasantly chirpy and respectful of my solitary enjoyment of the courtyard, rather than forcing me into conversation given I was unaccompanied.
I promptly ordered from the cheerful, elderly waiter. There in that tranquil setting I tasted a dish that I have tried to recreate ever since.
INGREDIENTS (Serves 4)
350g of spaghetti (this is my personal favourite)
1 kg of small clams, sourced from fishmonger, scrubbed clean
2 fat garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 or 2 dried chilis, finely chopped
1/2 pack of fresh flat-leaf parsley
20 (around) plump cherry tomatoes, halved
250ml of dry white wine
a slosh of extra virgin olive oil
So far as storing your freshly purchased clams, let them breathe. Take them out of the bag they are in, particularly if it is plastic and place in a bowl, cover it with a wet towel and store in the fridge. It's best to cook shellfish on the same day as purchase. If they do go bad, you will smell a horrid putrid smell, rather than their usual fishy, smell of the sea. Whatever you do, don’t soak them in water.
Before cooking, give your clams a check by assuring they are all firmly shut. If some have started to open, give them a tap. If they don’t snap shut relatively quickly, discard them.
The aim of this recipe is to steam the clams in a flavorful liquid, this liquid is created by the garlic, tomatoes, parsley and of course, the wine which all combine with the sea salt flavour of the clams.
Get a pan for your pasta and bring it to the boil, whilst you are waiting prepare the clams by scrubbing them clean.
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.
Once the pasta has only about 5 minutes before it is cooked, fry the garlic in a deep, large saucepan (with a lid-essential )with a generous couple of sloshes of olive oil until golden. Add the cherry tomatoes, 3/4 of the parsley. Pour in the wine and simmer gently for 1 minute then pour in your clams. Give the contents of the pan a good shake and place the lid on top. In about 3-4 minutes all the clams will open, once they are all open take the pan immediately off the heat. You don't want to over-cook the clams as they will turn an unpleasant pale color, become overly chewy and lose their fantastic flavor. If any of the clams have refused to open, dispose of them.
Drain the pasta which, by now should be perfect. Toss all the ingredients together, adding an extra drizzle of olive oil to add moisture and make sure the pasta doesn't stick. Serve in deep pasta bowls to accommodate the clams and all the wonderful sauce, which you will no doubt be mopping up later perhaps with a crusty loaf. Sprinkle the remainder of the parsley for garnish and serve.