City Kitchen: Clams, with their rich broth, paired with pasta and some basic flavors, can be a simple and aromatic way to appreciate the ocean. Recipe: Clam Pasta with Basil and Hot Pepper

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As I prowled a market in the city the other day, wishing I were at the shore with friends, I stopped to visit my favorite fishmonger. Among the other offerings from local waters, the blackboard advertised clams.

If I couldn’t be on a beach holiday clamming, at least I could have clams.

For an easy, casual meal any time of year, there’s nothing like a pot of steamed clams, savory and brothy, served with a good loaf of crusty bread. I’ve always found it rather miraculous that clams can give us all that delicious broth.

But I was in the mood for the kind of pasta alle vongole you get all over Italy, with steamed clams in the shell piled rakishly atop a twirl of spaghetti. The usual simple seasonings are garlic and parsley, along with a little zip from peperoncino and a splash of white wine, or a bit of tomato. But the gorgeous summer basil at the next stand was irresistible, so that became part of the plan, too. I would make a very simple pesto with basil, garlic and olive oil.

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Dried pasta is the best choice here (delicate fresh pasta has its place, but this is rustic fare). Choose one that is sure to be nicely chewy and al dente. I like bucatini or spaghetti or sturdy linguine.

The beauty of this dish is that the clams can be steamed in the time it takes to cook the pasta, so the whole affair can be put together quite rapidly. High heat and a covered pot will have the shells open in minutes. Add the cooked pasta and let it absorb the briny juices for a moment, then stir in the garlicky basil purée.

Garnish with a few more basil leaves and lemon wedges and dig in. Inhale the fragrant seaside aroma, close your eyes for a moment and imagine an ocean breeze.


Time: About 30 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

For the basil purée:

1 cup basil leaves

1 cup Italian parsley leaves

3 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste

¼ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the pasta:

1 pound bucatini, spaghetti or linguine

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon crushed fennel seed, optional

½ teaspoon peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes)

4 pounds small clams, like little neck or Manila, rinsed of sand

½ cup dry white wine

Basil leaves, for garnish

Lemon wedges

1. Make the purée: grind basil and parsley together in a food processor. (Alternatively, hand-chop herbs or pound them in a mortar.) Add garlic paste and ¼ cup olive oil and pulse to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rapid boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, taking care to keep pasta quite al dente. It’s best to use a timer, and drain pasta as soon as it’s done.

3. While pasta is cooking, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy-bottomed wide pot with a lid over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic, fennel seed if using and peperoncino, and let sizzle without browning, about 1 minute. Add clams; stir with a wooden spoon to coat. Raise heat to high, add wine and put on lid. Cook, covered, until all clams have opened, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off heat. (Discard any clams that fail to open.)

4. Add cooked pasta and basil purée to pot and toss gently to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with basil leaves and lemon wedges.

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