Spaghetti with Clams or Mussels

Spaghetti alle Vongole o Cozze

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield:



Appears in


By James Peterson

Published 1991

  • About

Americans are probably most familiar with the classic linguini with clam sauce, but in Rome and Naples, clams and mussels are usually served with spaghetti. Virtually any cooked strand pasta can be tossed with steamed mussels or clams and their delicious briny liquid. This version is based on olive oil, but it is also possible to combine the cooking liquid with butter or heavy cream (reduced until slightly thickened), flavor it with chopped herbs—especially parsley—and toss with the pasta.


garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 2
water cup 80 ml
small clams or mussels, scrubbed and sorted 4 lb 1.8 kg
tomatoes, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped 2 medium 2 medium
extra-virgin olive oil or heavy cream cup 165 ml
finely chopped parsley or basil (chopped at the last minute) 2 tbsp 30 ml
salt and pepper to taste to taste
dried spaghetti or other strand pasta or fresh strand pasta such as fettuccine or linguine 1 lb or lb 450 g or 675 g
butter or olive oil ½ oz or 1 tbsp 15 g or 15 ml


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil for cooking the pasta.
  2. Combine the garlic with the water in a pot large enough so that the shellfish come only halfway up its sides (to leave room for them to open). Add the shellfish, cover the pot, and cook over medium to high heat until all the shellfish have opened, about 10 minutes for clams or 6 minutes for mussels.
  3. Remove the shellfish from the pot with a big spoon or skimmer, put them in a bowl or pot, cover, and keep them warm. (You can take the cooked clams or mussels out of the shells—or just remove the top shell—but the dish looks more festive when they’re left in their shells.) Slowly pour the shellfish cooking liquid into a small saucepan, leaving the garlic and any grit behind in the pot (if the liquid is very gritty, strain it).
  4. Combine the tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, and parsley with the cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper (salt may not be necessary).
  5. Cook and drain the pasta, toss with the butter or olive oil, and distribute in hot bowls. Ladle the sauce over the pasta and arrange the shellfish over and around.