Linguine with Clam Sauce

DinnerComfort FoodItalianShellfish

Classic Italian-American linguine with clam sauce with fresh and canned clams, tomatoes and fennel

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

What’s there to say about this Italian-American classic other than, “red or white?” Linguine with clam sauce comes in either a red tomato-based version, or a white version with cream or white wine.

Today we present to you a red version, with a tomato-based, clam-juice infused sauce, dressed up with some fennel and a little dash of anise liqueur.

Why the licorice note from the fennel and anise? Trust me. It just goes well with tomato sauce and seafood.

Funny thing, my dad hates, and I mean truly despises, licorice. But he gobbles down Italian sausage like there’s no tomorrow, and the defining spice in sweet Italian sausage is fennel seed.

Certain flavors just enhance others, and in this case the licorice flavor from the fennel and anise liqueur makes the clam sauce sparkle. (By the way, you can skip the liqueur if you want, you’ll just have a more subtle licorice note from the fennel.)

Do you have a favorite clams with pasta dish? Please let us know about it in the comments.

Linguine with Clam Sauce Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8

Scrub the clams in the shell well with cold water to remove any grit sticking to the shells. If you have any clams whose shells remain open after you've rinsed them, set them on the counter and tap them; if the shell closes in a minute or two, the clam is alive, if not, it's dead and you'll want to discard it.


  • 2 pounds small clams in the shell, scrubbed clean
  • 1 15-ounce can of whole baby clams
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 small or 1/2 large fennel bulb, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped (4 teaspoons)
  • 1/3 cup ouzo, Sambuca, Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar
  • Salt
  • Fronds from the fennel bulb, minced
  • Linguine (can sub any long shaped pasta, like spaghetti or fettuccine)


1 Open the can of clams and strain the juice through a paper-towel-lined fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. Set both the juice and the clams aside.

2 Heat the olive oil in a large pot or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and fennel bulb and sprinkle with a little salt. Stir well and sauté until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Don't brown them. Add the chopped garlic and sauté for another minute.

3 Add the ouzo (if you're using) to the pan and let it boil down until it's almost completely evaporated. Add the tomato paste and stir well to coat the vegetables. Cook for a minute or two.

4 Add the crushed tomatoes and the clam juice (strained from the can of clams) to the pot, along with a sprinkling of salt and the sugar. Stir well, turn the heat to a slow simmer and cook for 20 minutes. While the tomato sauce is cooking, heat a large pot of salted water for the pasta.

If you would like a smooth sauce instead of chunky, ladle the sauce into a blender and purée it until smooth, then return to the pot.

5 When the pasta water comes to a boil, start cooking the linguine pasta. Add the clams in the shell to the sauce pot. Submerge the clams in the sauce. Increase the sauce pot's temperature up to a low boil or a strong simmer. It should take 3-5 minutes for all the clams to open. As the clams open, remove them to a bowl. Remove the clam meat from all but a few of the shells which you will want to save for a garnish. (Or keep the clam meat in the shells, your choice, we just find the dish easier to eat if most of the clams are already out of the shells.)

6 When the pasta is ready, drain it and put it in a large bowl. Add the canned clams to the pasta sauce and return the formerly live clams to the sauce as well. Add the chopped fennel fronds and stir to combine.

To serve, ladle some sauce into the bowl with the pasta and mix well to combine. Use tongs to put some pasta on each plate, add a small spoonful of clam sauce on top and garnish with a few of the clams that are still in the shell. Serve at once.

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Weeknight Linguini with Clam Sauce - from Blue Kitchen

White Linguini with Clam Sauce - from Annie's Eats

French Laundry Linguini with Clam Sauce - from French Laundry at Home

Linguine with Red Clam Sauce

Showing 4 of 11 Comments / Reviews

  • Three-Cookies

    Licorice sounds interesting. I use star anise in cooking sometimes and its great unless I use too much by mistake. This may sound unusual but I have tried curried clams/mussels (dry curry) and its fantastic!

  • Jim Price

    There’s just the two of us in my household, so can this recipe be frozen for later use?

    Great question. I haven’t frozen this yet, but I think tomato sauces do freeze well. Perhaps you could freeze the sauce you don’t eat and just make enough pasta for one meal? Or just make half a recipe. ~Elise

  • Colleen

    Ohhhh this looks incredible. Will be making it next week! We have always preferred white clam sauce (no cream or wine, just onion, garlic, basil, clam juice and clams, plus a dash of crushed red pepper)because all the red sauce I’ve ever tried overwhelmed the clams and had a bitter taste. The fennel and ouzo sound like just the ticket to brighten up the flavor. Good thinking! Love your blog! You’ve never let me down yet!

  • Rocky Mountain Woman

    I love fennel with pasta.

    Usually I do a wine butter sauce, but the tomato looks just lovely…

    I do my linguine with clam sauce with proscuitto sometimes…

  • Lori Polin

    Here is my version of white clam sauce- admittedley a purist version- but soooo good. It is posted on my blog.

    Both the taste of the fresh clams and the deeper flavor of the canned clams and broth make this dish delicious. All fresh clams in this dish is too “light” and all canned is boring.

    6 cloves of garlic thinly sliced
    2 bottles of clam juice
    one can of canned clams
    2 dozen fresh little necks (let fishmonger open them) with the reserved juice-
    ½ cup of fresh parsley chopped – can’t have too much parsley
    1 lb of linguine (Barilla is a good choice)
    fresh bread – toasted if you like
    roasted peppers – optional but the best when served nice and cold alongside the linguine

    start water for linguine- a big pot with plenty of water and add a bottle of clam juice and some olive oil and salt
    slice and rough mince 6 cloves of garlic
    add to heated pan about 1/4 cup olive oil (enough oil to cover a sauce fry pan generously)
    be careful not to burn the garlic
    once the garlic looks soft, (feel free to have some wine while waiting),
    add the reserved juice from 2 dozen fresh little necks, and the
    juice from the can of clams (reserve clams)
    and the second bottle of clam juice- simmer allowing it all to get to know each other and reduce a bit.
    once the pasta water is boiling rapidly and while in the meantime the clams and garlic are getting to know each other,
    add the fresh clams and the canned clams to the simmering clam juice and bring to the boil just a few minutes to cook the raw clams.
    Cook the pasta al dente….very al dente… and when done combine all the ingredients in a big bowl, sprinkling the parsely on top. It should be juicy and will be delicious.
    Please do not add cheese!

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