Pasta with Clams (“White Sauce”)

Pasta con VongoleWhenever I’m lucky enough to visit Italy, I make a point of ordering pasta with clams at least once while I’m there. Using varieties of clams I’ve never seen stateside, my pasta is served chock full of tiny, incredibly sweet bivalves no bigger than my thumbnail. What a treat! Back here at home, when I’m in an adventurous mood, I’ll make a run to the Asian markets to try some of the varieties of clams that they have on hand. More often than not, however, I’ll just head to one of the better groceries and pick up some littleneck or manila clams. When I do, I know that night’s dinner will be something special.

With no tomato sauce to simmer, this is an amazingly simple recipe that results in a very flavorful dish. Just toss a few ingredients into a frying pan while your pasta cooks and, in about 10 minutes, you’ll be sitting down to dinner. It really is as simple to make as it is delicious to eat.

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Pasta with Clams (“White Sauce”) Recipe

total time: approx.  90 minutes (75 minutes for prep, 15 minutes cooking)


  • at least 2 doz. little neck or manila clams
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine or water
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb pasta
  • chopped parsley for garnish

Linguine with Clams


  1. At least an hour before dinner, use a brush to individually scrub each clam before  rinsing and placing it in a large bowl of cold freshwater. Rinse them a second time just before proceeding with the recipe.
  2. Bring a 6 quart pot of salted water to boil.
  3. Add oil to a large frying pan with a lid. Add the garlic, parsley and the wine or water.
  4. Add the pasta to the pot of salted boiling water. The pasta, if dried, should take 9 or 10 minutes to cook. If fresh, less time will be needed. Time it so that its completion coincides with that of the clams.
  5. Just when the frying pan’s liquid begins to show signs of boiling, add the clams and cover tightly,
  6. In about 5 to 8 minutes, the clams should be open & steamed. Discard any unopened clams. Replace cover and remove from heat.
  7. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta, and combine the clams & pan juices with the drained pasta. If too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
  8. Serve immediately, garnished with chopped parsley.


This dish is totally reliant upon timing. If you’re off, the pasta will not be piping hot or, worse yet, the clams will be over-cooked and chewy. Just heed the pasta package’s instructions and keep in mind that the clams will open about 5 minutes after they hit the hot pan. Very often, if my clams are ready and my pasta still needs another minute or two, I’ll use the time to remove some of the clam meat from the shells. I won’t remove all of the meat from the shells because I prefer to see a few shells in each serving. It’s all about the presentation.


When in Italy, one is far more likely to see this dish than you would pasta with clams in a tomato (“red”) sauce. The latter dish, however, is more popular here in the States.  Truth be told, I usually prepare today’s recipe and only “go red” about 25% of the time. The choice is yours to make and here’s my recipe for Pasta with Clams – (Red Sauce) for those who prefer their clams in a tomato sauce.

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24 thoughts on “Pasta with Clams (“White Sauce”)

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  4. This is one of my all-time favourites and when I’m in Italy – particularly in Venice – I try to limit myself to having it once a week! i can’t imagine having clams with ‘red’ sauce, but will pop over to have a look, just in case the urge arises!


  5. I like both the red and white versions of this dish. You definitely get more clam flavor in the white version. My version of the white variety is real similar to yours. I use a bit more garlic, and add some red pepper flakes. Otherwise, virtually identical. Good stuff – thanks.


    • Thank you, John. My family didn’t use red pepper flakes often in their cooking, probably because of us kids. I could definitely see me following your lead, though, and adding some to this dish. And, as for the garlic, what’s a couple more cloves between friends? 🙂


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  7. I will have to try your recipe. I attempted clams and linguine in a white sauce a while back and it was just blah. I even cheated and added pancetta. I wonder if my clams were poor quałity? I think I used a local variety that’s sometimes substituted for Little Necks called cockle clams.


    • Pancetta or bacon with clams is very tasty. I love either one. I’ve used cockles and manila clams when I couldn’t find little necks. Keep in mind, though, this isn’t a dish with so much flavor that it will knock your socks off. In fact, that’s why cheese is never served with it. The cheese would easily overpower the rest of the dish.


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  12. Hi, bookmarked this after traveling here from your recent black clam post. I sure wished I had a fishmonger near me. Sounds fabulous…that organic, never frozen chicken…oh my…wouldn’t I love to find that right around the corner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello! I run around town, going to this or that store for specialty items. Finding this fishmonger ranks as one of my best discoveries. For such a little shop, he has a wide variety and all of it high quality and sustainable. It really is a delight walking into that shop. I never know what I’m going to be carrying on my way out. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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