Video: How to make spaghetti alle vongole

Mark Seymour shows how to make spaghetti alle vongole: spaghetti with clams.

Mark Seymour
Mark Seymour
Mark Seymour teaches Italian history and culture at the University of Otago and has lived in Italy for many years.
Originally from the UK, he came to Dunedin 10 years ago.
He was delighted to find clams, also known as cockles, abundant in Otago bays and estuaries and uses them to make his favourite Italian dish, spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams).

In Italy, to where Otago clams are exported, smaller clams are preferred for pasta, but bigger ones will taste just as good, he says.

This dish is what you are likely to be served in a Roman trattoria; to the south, around Naples, you would probably find a few cherry tomatoes added.

The key to Italian cuisine is to use top quality ingredients, olive oil, pasta, wine etc, although you do not use very much of them, he said.


Mark's spaghetti alle vongole. Photos by Gregor Richardson.
Mark's spaghetti alle vongole. Photos by Gregor Richardson.
Spaghetti alle vongole
Serves 2


1kg clams
good, fruity extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, firmly but gently squashed
a few chilli flakes or a fresh chilli, finely chopped, if available
about ¼-½ glass white wine
a few sprigs of parsley washed and chopped, preferably flat-leaf Italian, but curly will do
200-220g spaghetti



First prepare the clams. If you have gathered them yourself, sort and wash them. Leave them for a few hours in the fridge with a damp cloth over them to discard any sand. Some people recommend keeping them in a bucket of seawater in a cool place.

Rinse the clams in cold water and discard any that will not close when tapped. Put them in a large pot with a lid on high heat. You may need a little water to help them steam open.

As they pop open, remove them to a plate, until all are opened. Discard any that refuse to open. Keep the clam stock, the secret to the dish's flavour. If you have added water you may need to reduce it by simmering.

Remove the meat from the clams and discard the shells. Tip any juice back into the pot.

There will be sand and perhaps bits of shell in the stock, so strain it through a fine strainer (Mark uses a tea strainer), or through a sieve lined with muslin.

Rinse the clams in the strained stock, set aside and strain the stock once again. There will be sand to discard each time.

Now you are ready to cook the pasta and make the sauce.

If you are confident, the sauce can be made while the spaghetti is cooking; it will take about 12 minutes once the water is boiling. Otherwise, make the sauce first and reheat it when the spaghetti is almost cooked.

For the pasta, bring a large pot of water to a vigorous boil. You may not need to add salt as the clam stock is salty. When at a rolling boil, fan the spaghetti into the pot so it does not clump together and set the timer for the time recommended on the packet. Allow to boil vigorously until al dente.

Meanwhile, cover the bottom of a frying pan with fruity olive oil, warm over a medium heat and cook the garlic gently until just changing colour. Add the chilli and let the flavours infuse. If you are making a Neapolitan version, add halved cherry tomatoes.

You can remove the garlic if you like, although Romans would prefer to leave it in.

When the flavours have infused, add the clam stock (decanting it off any remaining sand) and stir as it heats slowly to emulsify and thicken.

Add a splash of wine, stir and taste. There should be a balance between the saltiness of the clam juice, the softness of the oil, the heat of the chilli and the sharpness of the wine. Three or four minutes before the spaghetti is cooked, warm it if necessary, and add most of the clams and chopped parsley, stirring and allowing them to heat through.

Stir the pasta occasionally and when it is al dente - with just a little resistance when you bite into it - drain it in a colander. Shake out excess water and tip the pasta into the sauce.

Stir and toss gently until every strand of spaghetti is coated with the sauce. Clams will hide at the bottom.

Divide the pasta between the serving bowls (tongs are useful here), pour over any sauce left in the bottom of the pan (minus any sand), sprinkle reserved clams and parsley on top.

Serve with a slice of ciabatta to mop up the last of the sauce.

Mark recommends a white wine or, in winter, a pinot noir with this dish.



• About 70-80% of the weight of the clams is their shell, which will be discarded.

• Mark uses a good New Zealand olive oil.

• He recommends a good Italian pasta, preferably De Cecco, but Del Verde or Barilla will do.

• Pasta likes to be warm, so a useful tip is to drain the hot water from the pasta into the serving dishes to heat them.

• Italians never serve cheese with seafood, so do not be tempted to add parmesan.

Thanks to Afife Harris, Centre City New World and Southern Clams.




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