Linguine with white clam sauce is a dish that unites the Italian-American and traditional Italian culinary scenes. The dish is meant to be bright, light, garlicky, and full of briny clams. It’s also a textural delight. The bright and lightly dressed pasta is topped with toasted bread crumbs cut with lemon zest, bringing another level of brightness and crunch.
I always make and order this with the clams inside their shells. I’m a purist, I guess. But really, this dish is all about the flavor you get from cooking those clams in the shell in all that wine, butter, and garlic. Without the shells, you lose a lot of the deep brininess and broth-making aspects of the liquid inside those shells.
As for dealing with the shells while you eat, I’ve seen two tactics used in Italy. Some folks tend to eat the pasta and fork clams out separately. It basically goes: A few twisted forks of pasta and then a few clams, repeat. Another tactic I’ve seen — and the one I tend to use — is folks will first de-shell all the clams into the pasta once it’s served. Then you basically just eat the pasta and the clams mix in as you eat.
It’s up to you how to eat your clam linguine. We’re your friend, not your mom.
One last note, you don’t need cream for this recipe. You only really see cream in Italian-American variations. Traditionally, butter is used to mount the sauce at the end of the cook. When you add butter to a reduced sauce (reduced from something like white wine), you get a creamy albeit much lighter and delicate sauce.
Okay, let’s get into it!
Linguine with White Clam Sauce
- 1/2-lb. steamer clams
- 1 lemon
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 handful of parsley
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 bottle white wine
- 1-lb. fresh linguine pasta
- Black Pepper
- Olive oil
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup fried finely diced pancetta
- Optional: Freshly grated parmesan
I didn’t have time to make fresh pasta. So I bought one pound of fresh linguine. It’s perfectly fine for this dish. Though, I’d argue that dried linguine is also fine at the end of the day, though not preferred.
The rest is pretty straightforward. I’m using a Lugana white wine from Lombardy right next to Venice. It’s a light white wine that’s specifically crafted to work with seafood. You can grab the bottle by clicking on the name above. Or find a light white wine that works well with seafood from the wine region nearest you.
Other than that, you’re going to need fresh clams. I’m from the Seattle area, so fresh seafood like this was always a given for me. If you can’t find fresh clams, maybe skip this ish. Sure, you can use the jar of clams. But then you’ll want to get a proper seafood broth and put in half that and half the amount of white wine to balance out the flavor profile and… just wait until you have clam access.
What You’ll Need:
- Large saute pan
- Large stockpot
- Cutting board
- Kitchen knife
- Fine grater
- Large spoon
- Food processor or blender
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil with a good punch of sea salt.
- Slice the garlic, mince the pancetta, and finely chop the parsley.
- Finely grate the lemon rind.
- Add the pancetta to a cold saute pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil and put on medium-high heat.
- Once the pancetta is browned, remove it to a waiting plate with paper towels to cool and drain excess fat.
- Add another tablespoon (or so) of olive oil to the saute pan and add the garlic. Cook for about a minute until very fragrant.
- Add a large glug of the wine to the pan to bring up the fond and soften the garlic.
- Add one layer of clams in the pan and cover with wine until the liquid is just over the shells.
- Bring to a low simmer and cook until liquid is reduced by half.
- In the meantime, add the bread crumbs, lemon zest, and pancetta to a blender or food processor and pulse until well mixed and the consistency of large sand.
- Once the clams have opened and the wine has reduced, add the butter to the liquid to mount the sauce. Use the tongs to emulsify the butter to the wine (it should get creamy). Taste the sauce and add salt to season to taste.
- Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook until al dente (or a minute below the package’s instructions).
- Use the tongs to transfer the pasta from the pot to the pan, making sure to bring a little pasta water with the pasta. Move the pasta around in a circular motion to dress with the sauce.
- Remove the pan from the heat and hit with half a lemon of juice and mix in with the tongs.
- Sprinkle the pasta with the chopped parsley, cracked black pepper, and bread crumb mix and serve immediately.
- Optionally sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan.
This was the perfect lunch. The best part is that it’s light but full of flavor. The sauce is a buttery, lemony, briny, garlicky delight and works wonders on the thin-ish linguine delivery system.
The clams add a nice textual counterpoint and bring a chill seaside vibe to the dish. The lemon and pancetta in the breadcrumbs is a real highlight in both a textural crunch and bright yet savory layer.
I ended up hitting my pasta with a little freshly grated parmesan. But, it didn’t really need it. When I went back for seconds, I didn’t bother with the cheese again.
I shelled my clams first and then tucked in. I just prefer it that way. But I get eating some creamy lemony pasta and then popping in a clam every now and then as a change of pace. Either way works.
The best part is that this is pretty easy to make and doesn’t take a crazy amount of time. All told, this was about 30 minutes from start to finish. And as you can see — those 30 minutes were absolutely worth it!