I swear, I’m not looking to replace spaghetti carbonara as the ever-favorite object of my heart. That won’t happen in this lifetime.
It’s my ur-comfort food, the pasta meal that rises above all others, the best thing that ever happened to silky strands of semolina.
Having said that, if there were ever a dark, cold moment on this earth when carbonara was no longer available to me, I would turn to one-pot pasta with clam sauce in my time of need.
They’re two sides of the same salty coin—where carbonara gets its oomph from guanciale, pasta with clam sauce goes for the salinity of the sea.
Both benefit from a splash of wine and a healthy grind of black pepper; both, I would also argue, can be even better eaten straight from the refrigerator the next day.
(It’s a divisive stand, to be sure, but you’ll be pulling my cold breakfast leftovers out of my cold dead hands.)
And like carbonara, at this point, I’ve developed an intuitive sense of making pasta with clam sauce to the point where it’s more of a loose ratio instead of a recipe.
Most of the time, apart from weighing out my pasta and draining the canned clam juice into a Pyrex cup, I don’t measure out any ingredients for the dish.
I’ve done it every which way, depending on how much wine I have in the fridge, whether or not I’ve splurged for fresh clams that day (AKA whether I’ve planned ahead), and how many burners I’m allotted on the stovetop.
Yes, that last one’s embarrassing for a professional recipe developer.
We have a pretty crap stove, so if Dan’s boiling water for his beloved buttered noodles, I’m stuck using the only other burner powerful enough to get a big skillet of liquid up to a simmer.
Thus, the recipe that follows has been developed to guarantee a big bowl of clam pasta on the days when I only have one can of clams and one stove burner at my disposal.
Maybe I have linguine, but I might only have bucatini or spaghetti, and that’s ok too.
Maybe I have some leftover white wine, maybe I don’t. It’s easy enough to switch out, and water can even be added in a pinch if the situation is dire.
One-pot pasta is really the most forgiving technique, and once you start playing with it, you’ll find your own go-to ways to use this method.
Technically, this recipe makes enough for two servings. But if you want to double it, make sure you’ve got a deep saute pan that can handle you stirring the pasta and liquid together without anything sloshing over the sides.
(I always recommend the All-Clad 3-quart saute pan.)
The plan is always to save half for cold pasta leftovers the next day, but I’m not always strong enough to stop eating.
- 1 (6.5-ounce) can chopped clams
- about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups dry white wine and/or chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 ounces (1/4 pound) bucatini, linguine, or spaghetti
- 1 large handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- freshly ground black pepper
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
- Place a mesh strainer over a 4-cup measuring cup and drain the canned clams, reserving the clams and their juice separately.
- You'll have about 3/4 cup clam juice; add enough wine or broth to make 2 1/4 cups total liquid. Reserve an extra 1/4 cup liquid just in case.
- Heat the olive oil in a deep 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat.
- Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook just until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the wine and clam juice and increase the heat to medium.
- Bring to a simmer and add the pasta. Bend and press the strands into the liquid to help them soften, stirring until all the pasta is mostly submerged.
- Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is almost al dente and has absorbed most of the liquid.
- If the liquid is evaporating too quickly and the pasta is still a little toothy, turn the heat down and add the remaining 1/4 cup liquid.
- Stir the reserved clams and parsley into the pasta and continue to simmer for 1 to 2 minutes more.
- Season with freshly ground black pepper, along with a few flakes of sea salt if needed—I usually find that the clams give the dish enough briny body.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan if that's your thing.
- Eat it all. Don't even bother putting half of it in a storage container for later.
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