Clams with Pasta

Quahogs are abundant in the salt marshes of the Lowcountry. No clamming license is required for residents, and we are allowed ½ bushel per head of household for no more than two days each week of the nine-month season (September through May). Littlenecks, the smallest grade, are seldom seen locally; they are shipped up north, where they are better appreciated. We are left with the cherrystones, or mediums, and the big “chowders,” fit only for what their name implies.

I put the clams in a large bucket of salty water to which I add some cornmeal and black pepper. The clams will purge themselves of sand within an hour. I then steam the clams until they just open in a Charleston rice steamer. Do not overcook them or they will toughen. A dozen medium-large clams, about 2½ to 3 inches in diameter, will yield cups clam juice. Figure a dozen clams for each diner. One-quarter pound of uncooked dried flat pasta makes one serving.

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For Each Serving

  • ¼ pound dried pasta
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¾ cup strained clam juice
  • 1 tablespoon mixed chopped fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, and oregano or 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning or herbes de Provence
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 medium clams, steamed and chopped (about ½ cup)


Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add a pinch of salt, and return to a boil. Cook the pasta in the water, uncovered, while you prepare the sauce.

Heat the oil with the garlic over medium heat until the oil is permeated with the garlic flavor; do not let the garlic brown. Add the clam juice and herbs and allow about half of the liquid to evaporate. Increase the heat a bit and whisk in the butter. Add the clams, stirring to coat them well, then serve at once over hot cooked pasta. Pass the pepper mill.