Clams are called vongole in Italian and so this dish is sometimes called Pasta Vongole. And you will find this pasta in practically all Italian restaurants.
Traditionally, this dish is most often served with spaghetti as Spaghetti Volgole, or with linguine / linguini.
(Linguini is said to be a "misspelling" of linguine but both spellings have become generally accepted, with linguini being more commonly used.)
There are two main versions of Linguini with clam sauce - one with a red tomato-based sauce and the other with a white sauce that is basically the liquid from cooked clams plus wine.
That other pasta recipe is one of the very few with a sauce that is neither tomato, oil or cheese-based. Click here for the white Linguini with clam sauce recipe.
For now, let's enjoy the tomato-based red clam sauce.
Note: For this version of Linguini with clams, pictured below, I've used a species of large clams, each about 2-inches across. I fine these clams more meaty and satisfying to eat, compared with regular clams with tiny morsels of meat.
Some cooks claim, however, that the small clams are more delicious. I don't know. If they are delicious but cannot be felt, what's the point?
Tomato-based linguini with clam sauce
Notes about clams:
Clams are sometimes sold ready-shelled and ready-cooked, either frozen, chilled or in cans, soaked in brine. Unless you know of a good brand, try to avoid these as ready-prepared clams tend to be tasteless and rubbery. They won't make a very satisfying Linguini with clam sauce!
When buying fresh clams to make linguini with clam sauce, avoid those that are permanently open. Some may be open but will shut tightly once "disturbed". Those that remain open - even when you prod them - are already dead, smelly and should not be eaten. Also, avoid clams with broken shells.
There are many - apparently over 2,000 - different types of clams. The types used in pasta dishes are generally small, with smooth shells that are about 2cm to 4cm across. Choose bigger clams if possible, as the flesh shrinks when cooked and small clams will become very small! But some cooks say the small clams taste better.
Clams come from sandy beaches and have white flesh. Even among these, some clams are rounder and have thicker shells, while others are more oval in shape and have thinner shells. They generally taste similar.
Clams vs cockles
I have seen, however, one Linguini with clam sauce recipe that talked about cockles. Perhaps the words clams and cockles mean the same thing in some cultures. In Asia, however, cockles refer to a shellfish with ridged (as opposed to smooth) shells. These cockles live usually in black mud and have red, "bloody" flesh.
This is a totally different shellfish, which the Chinese in Southeast Asia use in a curry noodle dish called laksa, as well as fried rice noodles. Do not use it for your Linguini with clam sauce recipe. The taste will be very different.
This said, however, you may vary this recipe using mussels, scallops or other shellfish -- except that it will no longer be a Pasta Vongole (since "vongole" means clams).
Click here for another Linguini with clam sauce recipe, using white clam sauce prepared with white wine.
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