One of my favortie times to go to the beach is between 7 am 9 am when the only people out are me, my son and the retirees. Over the last few years I’ve noticed that when the tide is really low the over 60 crowd is out gathering clam shells in the morning. To be honest this was always a mystery to me, because I had no idea what to look for, how to clean them and how to cook fresh clams. But NOW it is a mystery NO MORE!! I finally built up the courage to ask one of the nonni (grandpas) I saw in the morning “potresti insegnarmi a cercare per le vongole” – “could you teach me to search for clams”.
How to Search for Clams
This guide / recipe is the amalgamation of advice received from 10 different local seniors about how to find, clean and cook clams….with spaghetti, of course.
Digging for Clams
- Every year the changes in the tide mean that different areas of the Romagna coastline are filled with clams, this year I was lucky enough to be at “Pinarella”, a small town lined with ancient Maritime Pine trees (I’ve written about here)
- You’ll want to head out in the early morning to find the best clams.
- Look on the surface in low wet sand left by the low tide until you see a few clams poking out. Dig AROUND these with your hands and get the clams STILL COVERED BY THE SAND, that way you can be sure they having been baking in the sun!
- I came across three main types of clam shells, but the ones that are best to eat are the ones featured below in this image. They are greyish/white in color with little engraved lines.
- The best size is between a penny (1 cm) and a quarter (3 cm). Any smaller, leave them on the beach, any bigger…. great – enjoy! just make sure they are the right type!
I couldn’t STOP once I got started digging for clams and we had a great time walking along in the shallow water together finding our clams and feeling like real fishermen. I would say you will want to get one handful per person! I went a little overboard and found enough for a dinner for four!
How to Properly Clean Fresh Clams that you have Found Yourself!
As was explained to me by the locals you need to use sea water to clean them. I brought an empty large (1 litre) water bottle and filled that with sea water. This was the cleaning process:
- Find the clams in the morning and bring them back to your kitchen at lunchtime. We were renting a beach apartment this time around and decided not to stay in a hotel so it was perfect! I used either a bucket or net to transport them, they were never out of water for more than 5-7 minutes
- Using a colander wash them under cold running TAP water to get rid of any sand / impurities on the outside of the shell
- Cover the cleaned clams with sea water and let them sit OUTSIDE of the fridge for 2 – 3 hours
- REPEAT after 2 – 3 hours
- After 3 hours wash again with TAP WATER, and put in another bowl with fresh sea water. If you leave your sea water in a water bottle all of the sand should settle to the bottom and it should be clean.
- The clams open and shut over the course of the next hour or two and you may even see them squirt water. This was VERY cool for me and my three year old!
SPAGHETTI ALLE VONGOLE
- FRESH CLAMS (approx 1 handful x person)
- GARLIC 2 – 3 medium cloves
- PARSLEY – 2 – 3 tablespoons
- 6/7 TOMATOES – I used piccadilly, which are larger than cherry tomatoes and yet sweeter and more fragrant than larger ones!
- OLIVE OIL
- SPAGHETTI – I used Vermicelli sized n°7 from Barilla, approx 30/40 grams per person
- SEA SALT – I religiously use Cervia’s Sale “Dolce”, a local salt from the Italian Adriatic Coast
Part 1: Cook the Clams
- Finely chop 2 cloves of garlic and 1 tablespoon of parsley
- In a skillet heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat
- Drain the fresh clams from the salt water they’ve been sitting in and add them to the skillet
- Sprinkle with some sea salt to taste….a pinch or two is fine.
- Increase the heat to HIGH and COVER
- You have about 30 seconds to Fill a large pot with water and put it over a high flame for your pasta!
- TURN OFF THE HEAT after 30 SECONDS and keep covered for 1 MINUTE. This is how I like to cook most of my seafood so that it cooks through but doesn’t get over cooked.
- Put the OPENED clams in a bowl and drain their water into another bowl or cup (you’ll need this later!)
- The clams that opened are ok to eat and the one that did not are NOT!
Part 2: Prepare the Sauce
- PREP: Dice up your tomatoes and chop the garlic and parsley. Measure out your pasta so that everything is good to go.
- At this point your water should be boiling for your pasta. This sauce recipe takes 10 minutes to cook, and my pasta also took 10 minutes to cook. Try to TIME when you will put your pasta in the boiling water so that you can have them both ready at the same time.
- Salt your pasta water and throw in your pasta according to how long it will take to cook!
- In the same skillet heat another tablespoon of olive oil and heat 1 tablespoon of garlic and parsley over medium heat
- Add in the clam water and increase the heat to HIGH
- Add in a pinch or two of sea salt without going crazy
- Add in the chopped tomatoes
- Heat it all on med/high for 10 minutes so that most of the water evaporates, but don’t let it get too dry or burn.
Part 3 : Put it all Together & Serve!
- Drain your pasta AL DENTE (meaning not soggy, but with just a bit of firmness to it) (save a ladle-full of the cooking water)
- Add the pasta to the sauce, throw in all of the clams and heat through for 30 seconds on a medium heat
- Add in a few tablespoons of the pasta’s cooking water if you find it a little too dry.
- SERVE and voilà …. enjoy!
This was SO GOOD, that my three year old and I sat at the table from 8:30 pm to 10:00 pm licking our fingers and chatting!