Spaghetti or linguine vongole – a shellfish pasta dish for summer

June 15, 2016 § 1 Comment

We were out with friends at a local Italian restaurant on Friday and I ordered their spaghetti vongole to benchmark my own version against it. The restaurant version was competent but no more – the pasta hadn’t taken on the sweet flavour of the clams and there was too much pasta and not much else. I shall spare the restaurant kitchen’s blushes by not naming it here!

I’ve been experimenting at home recently with spaghetti vongole having seen a recipe demonstrated by chef Theo Randall on the BBC cooking show Saturday Kitchen back in April.

The Theo Randall version ups the shellfish flavour by partnering the clams with squid and prawns. White wine, garlic and sweet cherry tomatoes form a base for the sauce, strips of courgette are mingled with the pasta to lighten the dish and the whole whole thing is freshened up with lots of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.

The trick to boosting the flavour of the finished dish is to only part-cook the pasta in boiling and salted water and complete the cooking in the clam sauce so that the pasta really takes on the sweet shellfish flavour.

The recipe for spaghettini with squid, clam and prawns that the BBC give on the website (to accompany the Saturday Kitchen show) for is frankly pants. It misses out the wine from both the ingredients list and method, some of the cooking times are wrong – you really don’t want to boil the wafer-thin courgette strips for 7 minutes – and the weight of some of the ingredients is unbalanced. My version of the recipe corrects these errors and omissions.

It’s important to have everything prepped and ready to go before you start cooking, as once you begin cooking it’s all systems go and the dish is finished quickly and cooked pasta can’t be kept waiting. Doing all the prep is a little time consuming but the finished dish is worth the little bit of effort this takes.

The clams need to be fresh but the recipe works just fine with defrosted raw squid and prawns.

The courgette strips would probably most easily be created with a modish spiraliser but if you don’t have one (and I don’t as you can see from the pictures), the courgette can be fashioned into long thin strips using a vegetable peeler or mandolin and kitchen knife.

I experimented making this dish with different types of good quality dried pasta. You don’t need to use spaghetti – my favourite version was with fine flat linguine to which the sauce clung well.

Linguine with clams, squid and prawns

Serves 2


200g good quality dried linguine (or spaghetti or other long thin pasta of your choice)
1 medium courgette cut into thin strips using a vegetable peeler or mandolin (or spiralised)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
350g clams in their shells, cleaned (1 generous handful each)
1 medium squid, cleaned, cut into small pieces (0.0,75cm dice is about right)
150g raw peeled deveined prawns cut into small pieces (the same size as the squid pieces)
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
pinch dried chilli flakes
10 baby plum or cherry tomatoes cut into quarters
large glass dry white wine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flatleaf parsley

1. Prep all the ingredients, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil , lay the table and warm your serving bowls and have your guest at the ready before you start cooking as this dish is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta and is at its best served and eaten as soon as it’s ready.

2. Cook the pasta in the pan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions but reduce cooking time by 1 minute. It will finish cooking in the clam juices.

3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan or deep frying pan big enough to hold all the sauce and the cooked pasta. Add the prawn, clams and squid and stir fry for one minute.

4. Add the garlic, half the parsley, the dried chilli flakes and the quartered baby plum or cherry tomatoes and stir fry for a further minute. Add the glass of white wine and allow it to bubble away for a further minute or two until reduced by approximately half. Turn off the heat while the pasta cooks.

5. Once the pasta is about one minute away from being ready, drain in a colander but reserve a cupful of the starchy pasta water.

6. Straightaway, add the raw courgette strips and drained pasta to the frying pan containing the sauce, turn the heat back on and cook for a further minute or so, tossing the pasta and courgettes in the pan so that sauce emulsifies and the pasta and courgettes really take on the flavour of the sauce. You may need to add a little of the reserved cooking water if the contents of the pan seem too dry. Go easy on the liquid though as you don’t want to drown the pasta in water.

7. Add the reserved tablespoon of chopped parsley and mix well before dishing up into warmed bowls.

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