Many great spaghetti dishes come together in under 15 minutes. Aside from a slow-cooked ragu or a Bolognese, a spaghetti dinner gives you little time to prepare yourself, whether that’s finishing an email, video game or conversation before it’s on the table, steaming its way into a gluey tangle. Carbonara, spaghetti aglio e olio (the one with garlic and olive oil), cacio e pepe (the other one with pecorino and black pepper) and spaghetti vongole (the one with fresh clams, garlic and white wine) are as speedy to make as they are delicious to eat. Yet they all come with one small caveat.
Before we get too excited about quick mid-week dinners, meal planning and all those other buzzwords, what they don’t inform you is that within five minutes of cooking you’ll be breathlessly running around in a kind of manic fluster. In this instance, it’s good to have a small kitchen so that everything is within arm’s reach.
One of my teachers at cookery school gave us some words of wisdom: ‘you control the food. Don’t let the food control you.’ Somehow this sage advice slips my mind as I hurriedly remove clams from their shells, and oh yes, the pasta is turning to mush.
Sometimes, during a particularly tense part of cooking, as I aimlessly wander around the kitchen looking for garlic/a tea towel/my sanity, the dinner having stealthily slipped through my grasp along with any control I thought I had, I think to myself, ‘didn’t I go to cookery school?’ ‘Didn’t I work as a chef for three years?’ ‘Shouldn’t this be easier?’
Every time, the speedy turn-around of a spaghetti dinner gives me whiplash. At the end of the day though, the inherent beauty of spaghetti is that it is forgiving. Just like their Italian inventors, spaghetti dishes are unfazed by just about anything. When we remember to not let the food control us, spaghetti can emerge from the pan perfectly every time.
Despite spaghetti vongole’s rather swanky high-end appearance with all its strewn parsley and open clam shells it is probably the most relaxed of the spaghetti-sauce bunch. As long as you are aware of your surroundings which includes overflowing pasta water, nothing drastic will happen.
I’ve found it to be helpful to repeat the name ‘vongole’ which must be said with an Italian accent – ‘vongolay’ – and I enter the kitchen with a relaxed feeling of Italian nonchalance. Cooking then feels like an escape to Italy rather than a runaway train.
Spaghetti vongole is pasta tossed in a salty broth which you make with garlic, chilli and half a glass of white wine (every single recipe I found stated this imprecise (yet now ironically precise) half a glass of wine. Chucking in the remainder of your glass before pouring yourself another is an Italian trait I highly admire) and with this broth you steam fresh clams.
The pearly shells slowly crack open like hungry mouths and you can tip in your cooked spaghetti, extract some clam meat to make it easier to eat (less crunchy anyhow), then shower everything in parsley and lemon juice.
If you’ve never eaten clams, I highly recommend you try this recipe. They are sweet and meaty, and the white wine broth clinging to the spaghetti is light like sea water meanwhile hitting your taste buds with garlic, lemon and chilli – all the best flavours for pasta and seafood. It has been my dream to make spaghetti vongole for YEARS – yes YEARS which is ridiculous – and finally, thanks to my 2022 recipe bucket list, it’s finally our time and I’m delighted!
Walk into that kitchen like a laid-back Italian – just remember to prepare all your ingredients, keep your eye on the heat, and these easy breezy 15-minute spaghetti dinners will stay under control.
- 175 g dried spaghetti
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large clove of garlic
- ¼ tsp chilli flakes
- ½ a glass of white wine
- 500 g fresh clams
- A small handful of fresh parsley
- ½ a lemon
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Prepare your ingredients and equipment: you will need a deep saucepan with a lid and another saucepan for the pasta. Have a colander ready in the sink, a bowl for the broth and a bowl for the shells. Gather your ingredients. Crush the garlic, chop the parsley and rinse the clams in cold running water. Discard any with cracked shells. Any open clams just need to be tapped on a work surface. If it doesn't close, throw it away.
- Fill the pasta pan with salted water and bring to a boil.
- To the other pan, the one with the lid, add 1 tbsp olive oil and the garlic and once sizzling, stir to prevent sticking then add the chilli flakes, wine and clams. Bring to the boil, then cover with the lid and leave to steam for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions. Finish anything that needs to be done like laying the table and washing up.
- Once the clams have steamed and are all open, strain the broth into one of the spare bowls. Remove the meat from half of the clams and discard the empty shells into the other bowl. Double check all of the clams have opened.
- By now the pasta will be ready so drain it all through the colander. Return the spaghetti to the same pan along with the clam broth and the naked clams (the ones without shells), bring to a simmer and season to taste with salt, pepper, lemon juice and the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil.
- Finally add the clams in their shells and the chopped parsley and serve with extra lemon.