Pasta with Clams (“Red Sauce”)

Blessed to be living on a peninsula or neighboring island, Italians enjoy a ready supply of seafood of all kinds — and their diet is all the better for it. A favorite dish of mine, whether I’m visiting Italy or at home, is pasta prepared with clams. Here in Chicago, the selection of fresh clams can be limited to cherry stones, with little necks and manila clams available sporadically. Cherry stones and little necks are actually same species of clam. The only difference is their size, with cherry stones being the larger of the two. I find little necks do taste sweeter, however, and I’ll use them whenever I can. If, however, only cherry stones are available, I’ll remove them from their opened shells during the cooking process, give them a quick chop, and then return the chopped clams and any juices to the pot. When all else fails, I have used, with some success, frozen clams and cockles purchased from a few of the area’s Asian markets. These same stores, by the way, can be a relatively cheap source for flash-frozen, vacuum-packed calamari, in any size you could possibly want.

As you can tell by this posting’s title, today’s recipe features clams cooked in a tomato sauce. In this recipe, I find that the sweet, delicate tasting clams can be overpowered by the tomatoes. So, in order to bolster the clam flavoring — and unlike the “white” version of the recipe — I’ll add a can of whole or minced clams to the sauce. It’s listed as “optional” within the recipe’s ingredients and the choice is yours to make. By the same token, whether you add any canned clams, be sure to use herbs and spices sparingly. They, too, can overwhelm the clams. It’s a tricky balance you’re trying to achieve but one definitely worth the effort.

*     *     *

Pasta with Clams (“Red Sauce”) Recipe

total time: under 2 hours (includes time to prep clams)


  • at least 2 doz. little neck or manila clams
  • 1 can (7 oz) whole or minced clams (optional)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 lb cooked pasta (tagliatelle pictured above)
  • 1 cup reserved cooked pasta water
  • chopped parsley for garnish


  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. Heat oil over med-high heat in a large frying pan with a lid. (If using red pepper flakes, add them now and sauté for 1 minute before proceeding.) Add onion, season lightly with salt & pepper, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and parsley and sauté for another minute.
  3. Add tomato paste, sauté for one minute, add the wine, and then add the tomatoes. Season with salt & pepper, bring to a boil before reducing heat and  simmering for 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, your pasta should be cooking, with an eye toward being drained just as the clams are opening.
  5. Increase heat to medium high, add the basil, and stir. (Add the canned clams now, if you choose to use them.)
  6. Add the clams and cover tightly.
  7. In about 5 to 8 minutes, the clams should be open & steamed. Discard any unopened clams. Replace cover and remove from heat.
  8. Combine the clams & tomato sauce with the drained pasta. If too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
  9. Serve immediately, garnished with chopped parsley.


Tired of tomatoes? Try the “white sauce” version of this recipe.

*     *     *


14 thoughts on “Pasta with Clams (“Red Sauce”)

    • Thanks for the kind words. You and your wife have put together quite a blog, one of the few that I consider to be a “must read” every day. I wish I had the material to post even half the entries that you do.


  1. Pingback: Pasta with Clams (“White Sauce”) | from the Bartolini kitchens

    • Thanks for stopping by. Yes, this recipe is a good one, handed down from my Mom. If it’s the kind of thing you’d enjoy, please come back for I’ll be posting more of our family’s recipes.


    • Thanks for stopping by, Mandy. I could eat pasta daily and pasta with clams certainly ranks high among my favorites. It’s an easy dish to prepare and the results are delicious. I hope you don’t wait too much longer before giving them another try. You won’t regret it.


  2. Please, please, PLEASE post a picture of dear Liz as she opens your special gift. Better still, make it a video and keep the camera rolling for, oh, about 3 more minutes after your surprise.

    As for your boot comment, we Italians all knew that as long as a German sits upon the Throne of St. Peter, there would be trash talk-a-plenty from the German faction. In this way we are very much like the Yankees and you, dare I say it, the ChisSox. Sure, you won a World Series but, in reality, you’re just a blip on the screen.


  3. Pingback: Mom’s Calamari Salad (Insalata dei Calamari) | from the Bartolini kitchens

    • I think you’re right. THe problem here is that it is easy to overwhelm the delicate clam flavor. I think you’re right. Fresh tomatoes would probably be better suited for the dish. Thanks for the great idea!


  4. Nice recipe! I virtually always use some canned clams when I make this – sometimes only canned clams (I know, I know – but in this sauce you can get away with it). If I have it handy, I’ll use some clam juice, too. I recently noticed that my supermarket is now stocking the Better than Bouillon brand of clam base – I haven’t used it yet, but if I was making this I’ll bet I’d add a bit! Good stuff – thanks.


    • I don’t think you can make this “red: sauce without a can of clams. The tomatoes flavors are so strong and the clams so delicate that they tend to get lost. I’ve not heard of clam base but I’m going to look for it. I bet it would be a big help here. Thank you, John, for your supportive comments and for the suggestion. I’ve already added it to my shopping list. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s