“Pasta con le Vongole Veraci” might be my favorite pasta dish when I’m on the coast of Italy. These small vongole (clams) are sometimes hard to find but the most flavorful. “Veraci” means authentic, genuine and in most cases, local. If you don’t have access to these incredible “vongole”, find the best-quality, local clams you can and try this delectable summer recipe.

This dish tastes different from the north of Italy to the south. Butter sneaks into the dish in the north, but it’s a pinch of peperoncino that wins in the south.

Clams are simply tossed in a heavy-bottomed pan and left to steam with the lid on until they open up completely, releasing their briny juices to mingle with a bit of garlic, parsley “e un po’ di vino bianco”.

This sea-kissed pasta was a collective effort during our last Culinary Adventure to the Island of Salina, the greenest of the lava-black Aeolian Islands off the northeastern coast of Sicily. At the white-washed Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia we celebrate our senses cooking in an open kitchen overlooking the vineyard, while Stromboli, an active volcano, puffs in the distance.

This dish pairs well with Capofaro’s dry malvasia wine called “Didyme,” whose vines are intertwined throughout the property. It has good acidity and aromatics typical of this wind-swept Mediterranean island.

Capofaro (The Lighthouse), Salina, Aeolian Islands, Sicily
(Stromboli and Panarea in the background)

Ingredients:
1 lb of pasta (spaghetti or linguine)
1 1/2 lbs fresh clams
1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped (save the stalks)
4 garlic cloves
small pinch of chili flakes
1/2 glass white wine
Extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
Lemon or lime for the zest

Preparation:

Clean the clams well to get rid of any sand and to make sure there are no dead ones.

Put a heavy-bottomed pan on the heat and allow to get very hot.

Add the clams directly into the pan and stir, allow to heat for a minute then add half a glass of white wine, 2 whole garlic cloves, and the parsley stalks, cover the pan with a lid and shake every now and again until all the clams are open.

Pour the clams and liquid into a sieve with a bowl underneath to collect the resulting stock.

Boil the pasta in lots of lightly salted water (the liquid from the clams will be salty so it is important not to salt the pasta too much).

In a large aluminum pan gently heat a generous dose of extra-virgin olive oil with 2 whole garlic cloves and a small pinch of chili flakes.

When the pasta is half-cooked add to the pan with the oil and garlic and add the clam stock. Finish cooking the pasta in the stock. If it starts to dry out add some of the pasta cooking water.

When the pasta is properly al dente (with a hair line of white in the center), reduce the liquid down until there is little left, turn off the heat, add a little pasta water and a healthy drizzle of olive oil and toss the contents until it is creamy. This is an art to perfect, but give it a try. Add the clams and chopped parsley and toss again. Taste to check the seasoning.

Serve with a little lemon or lime zest grated over the top. You can choose to leave the clams in the shells or to take them out. If you want to take them out, save a few nice shells to decorate the plate.

Serves 4-6 people.

Serving Tip: Take a large fork and scoop up a portion of the pasta and twirl it in a ladle. It makes a lovely presentation just like this photo.

Thanks to the chefs of Capofaro! 

photo: peggy markel

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