Spaghetti Nero alle Vongole
Updated: Apr 6
"I enjoyed retirement the right way... linguine con vongole, red wine and plenty of truffle cheese"
Craig Kilborn (1962-)
As mentioned in "Linguine with Cockles, Vermouth, Bacon and Wild Garlic", I have never been in any particular rush to post a recipe for linguine alle vongole, so well-known is it, but for a second time I find myself compelled to do so. Actually, I've had this one up my sleeve every since the end of last year when I tried a stunning-looking recipe for "Spaghetti Nero alle Vongole" from the Instagram page @tatyitaly, a real favourite of mine. And the reason I was so compelled was her artful use of cuttlefish-ink spaghetti along with yellow cherry tomatoes to create such an alluring colour contrast in a recipe that deviated little from that of the otherwise classic dish.
When I first made this, it was just before the Dorset clam fishery went into its January-to-May closed season so clams were not going to be coming to the market, but so good, simple and elegant was this recipe, I kept it to one side in anticipation of the fishery's reopening in June this year. Despite being toward the end of the year, Isle of Wight Tomatoes were still bringing punnets of their mixed cherry tomatoes to the farmers' market. Their production process means that they can supply tomatoes of some variety more or less all year round.
But, of course, now in summer, the range of produce they offer is as extensive as it is ever, and it is in no way essential that yellow cherry tomatoes are used in this recipe from whoever they come. It's just that, I'm sure you'll agree, the yellow cherry tomatoes contrasted with the black spaghetti is, like everything Taty creates, very pleasing on the eye!
I've used a technique I really like in several of Taty's recipes where garlic is used to infuse the cooking oil but is then discarded so as to leave its flavour without being physically present in the final dish. This detail would not usually be found in the most traditional of recipes for this dish - rather, a smaller amount of finely chopped garlic would be used. But then nor would the clams be prepared in advance and the meats be removed from any of the shells. And they don't have to be, though the sauce is likely to end up thinner and potentially contain more grit. In fact, to get back to the traditional method, it's just a matter of skipping step 1 of this recipe and including the wine (but use only a splash) and clams into step 3 at appropriate moments.
This dish could easily be made with cockles instead of clams.
Spaghetti Nero alle Vongole
Ingredients (Serves 2)
1kg clams, washed
50ml white wine
150-200g black (cuttlefish-ink) spaghetti
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for drizzling
1 small garlic clove, peeled and sliced
Pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional)
10-12 yellow cherry tomatoes (red ones are fine), halved lengthways
Handful of flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To prepare the clams bring the white wine to the boil in a wide sauté pan or deep frying pan covered with a lid. Once at the boil tip in the clams, replace the lid and cook over a high heat for about 2 mins until the clams have all just opened. Drain them into a colander set over a bowl to catch the cooking liquor. When the clams are cool enough to handle remove the meats from half of them and leave the remainder in the shell. Wipe the pan dry with a sheet of kitchen paper.
Bring a large pan of well-salted water to the boil and cook the pasta in this for 8 or 9 mins, or according to the instructions on the packet until it is al dente.
Meanwhile, in the pan used to open the clams, heat the olive oil and garlic slices and allow them to sweat briefly. Before the garlic browns, spoon it out and discard it. Add the dried chilli flakes (if using) to the oil and stir for a few seconds then add the cherry tomatoes. Let them sizzle for a minute or two then pour in the reserved liquid from the cooking of the clams, but avoid the last tablespoon or so as it could be quite gritty. Turn the heat up to medium-high and let the liquid reduce substantially. A minute before the pasta is cooked tip in the clams and allow to warm through.
When the pasta cooking time is over, use tongs to transfer it to the pan containing the clams and tomatoes, allowing a little of the cooking water to come with it. Stir everything together, taste and adjust the seasoning (salt will likely not be required) then toss the parsley through and serve in two pasta bowls.
"Linguine with Cockles, Vermouth, Bacon and Wild Garlic", Bute Street Seafoodie
"Spaghetti Nero alle Vongole", @tatyitaly (Instagram), accessed 8 August 2021
tatyitaly, Instagram page, accessed 8 August 2021
Isle of Wight Tomatoes, website accessed 8 August 2021