Spaghetti alle vongole

Serves 4
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In Italy, exact recipes for spaghetti alle vongole vary from region to region and even from restaurant to restaurant. Some will add chilli, dried or fresh, and occasionally you will see tomatoes added, although I prefer the purist version with no tomatoes and just a hint of dried chilli.

In Italy, exact recipes for spaghetti alle vongole vary from region to region and even from restaurant to restaurant. Some will add chilli, dried or fresh, and occasionally you will see tomatoes added, although I prefer the purist version with no tomatoes and just a hint of dried chilli.

The clams used vary too and can be quite expensive. Always try to use smaller ones that cook quickly and stay tender. Carpetshell clams (palourdes in France and vongole in Italy) are classic here, but my favourites are English surf clams, which are small and oval-shaped, and are gathered in the surf, which naturally helps to clean out any grit that sometimes remains in the shell. You could also use cockles, mussels or razor clams in this dish or, for a last-minute storecupboard treat, canned clams work really well. Look for the Italian brands actually sold as vongole. Drain and rinse well, then just add them to the softened aromatics and warm through gently.

350-400g dried spaghetti
5tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1/2tsp dried red chilli
800g small clams rinsed well in cold running water
2tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
3tbsp dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
50g unsalted butter

Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, then drain.

While the spaghetti is cooking, heat the olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the clams and gently cook the garlic, shallots and chilli for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the clams with the parsley and white wine, season with salt and pepper, turn up the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook for 4-5 minutes, giving the occasional stir, until all the clams have opened (one or two may not, so don't keep cooking just for them once most have opened).

Add the butter and the drained spaghetti to the pan, stir well over a low heat for a minute and serve immediately.

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