New England butter clams steamed with garlic and white wine then tossed with fettuccine. This simple, fresh and elegant seafood pasta is ready in 15 minutes and is the perfect dinner to show off local seafood.
This post is brought to you as part of the Massachusetts Seafood Ambassador program led by Eating with the Ecosystem . It’s made possible by funding provided from commercial fishermen of MA from permit fees at no additional cost to the fisherman via MADMF’s Seafood Marketing Grant Program.
Spaghetti with clams, spaghetti alle vongole, linguine with clams, fettuccine with clams – whatever name and version you prefer – a pasta with clams dish is one of the simplest, tastiest and most elegant dishes on the planet. And the smell of this dish cooking on the stovetop is SO incredible – it’s that intoxicating combination of butter, garlic, wine and clams.
Growing up, my Dad’s favorite pasta dish with spaghetti with white clam sauce and my mom made it for him on any special occasion. She used canned clams because most of my childhood life (age 5-18) we were living in Cincinnati, Ohio, far from any fresh fish markets. As a child, I loved the smell of the dish being prepared, but wasn’t as in love with the dish itself. Fast forward to my adult years and this pasta dish is one of my favorites, but I love it with fresh clams because here on the Cape, we have access to them year-round. So while canned clams are a pantry staple and are great in a pinch, we prefer using fresh clams for this dish.
This pasta uses New England butter clams.
What are butter clams?
New England butter clams are also known as Petite Atlantic surf clams, or, just butter clams. It’s important to note though that they are an entirely different species than butter clams from the West Coast. These New England butter clams are a juvenile surf clam of about 1 year old. They are only about 1.5-2 inches in comparison to the fully grown surf clam whose shell is much larger, often reaching 8+ inches in length.
The shell of the small surf clam isn’t yet as hard as the fully grown surf clam – so not as hard as a littleneck or hard shell clam, but not as brittle as a steamer or soft shell clam.
These butter clams don’t close their shell tightly, similar to a soft shell or steamer clam, so when you purchase them, some will have partially open shells. They are very active clams when they are fresh, so before you eat or cook them, tap them. They should move around or close up. If you tap one and it’s unresponsive, toss it. Also, if any are open and when tapped, don’t close, toss them. Any, of course, use your senses. If any have cracked shells, smell strange, or something seems off, throw it out.
These clams do not need to be soaked to remove any grit, which saves a lot of time and effort. Just give them a good rinse to remove any grit or sand off the shells and hinge, then they are ready to prepare.
Butter clams are full-bodied, sweet, buttery and briny. They are extremely versatile – you can eat them raw, include them in a soup or stew, serve them overtop pasta, steam them and serve them with butter, your options are endless.
These New England Butter Clams were grown and harvested by Beach Point Oysters in Barnstable Harbor, MA and purchased from Cataumet Fish in Cataumet, MA.
What do you need to make this clam pasta with garlic and white wine:
- Pasta. I’ve used fettuccine here, but you could use linguine or spaghetti.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Garlic. You want fresh garlic cloves here. Don’t sub in jarred or squeeze garlic.
- Butter clams. Or any small hard clam, such as littleneck clams.
- Fresh parsley
- Shaved parmesan cheese
How do you make this seafood pasta?
- First, boil your pasta until just before al dente.
- Inspect your clams, discarding any that don’t respond to a gentle tap or any with broken shells. Rinse them to remove any sand or grit.
- Saute the garlic in butter and olive oil in a large skillet until fragrant.
- Add the wine and clams over medium heat and cover. Steam until the clams open up.
- Add the pasta into the skillet and toss with the clams. Sprinkle with parsley, shaved parmesan and black pepper.
Are clams good-for-you?
Yes, clams are a healthy choice! Clams are packed with protein, and rich in vitamins and minerals, including: iron, selenium, Vitamin B 12, niacin, Vitamin C, and potassium. They also contain a small amount of heart and brain health promoting omega-3 fatty acids.
More of our favorite clam, mussel and oyster recipes:
Pasta with Clams
- 1 pound fettuccine or linguine or spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter unsalted
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 pounds clams New England butter clams
- Handful parsley chopped
- 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Cook pasta in a large pot with salted water until 1-2 minutes prior to al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water.
- Inspect clams and discard any clams with broken shells or any that don’t respond to gentle tapping. Rinse clams well to remove grit from the shell and hinge.
- Heat olive oil and butter in an extra large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add garlic. Saute for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add wine. Add clams, cover. Steam for about 4 minutes, or until clams have opened wide. Discard any clams that haven’t opened.
- Using a tongs, add pasta into skillet and toss with the clams and sauce, heat until pasta is al dente. If needed, add a bit of pasta water to help coat the pasta in the sauce.
- Sprinkle parsley, shaved parm and pepper overtop. Divide into shallow bowls and serve.
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