Linguini with Clam Sauce

What’s there to say about this Italian-American classic other than, “red or white?” Linguini 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.

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Linguini 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.

Ingredients

  • 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
  • Linguini (can sub any long shaped pasta, like spaghetti or fettuccine)

Method

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 linguini 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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Links:

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

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19 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. Ruth

    This looks really good. But clams are hard to get hold of where I live. I might have to go hunting for some. I really like the idea of the liquorice taste!

  3. 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

  4. 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!

  5. 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…

  6. Bob Y

    What a pleasure to see your recipe on an Arabia dinner plate. I got my set in the early ’70’s and still use and enjoy it.

    Isn’t it a beautiful pattern? My favorite. ~Elise

  7. 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!

  8. Tom L.

    Here is another white clam sauce rcp:

    Linguini with White Clam Sauce

    Some people prefer a thinner sauce. For thickening, I use potato starch which I store in the freezer. It has a higher heat point than arrowroot or cornstarch so it doesn’t breakdown when simmering. It also helps the sauces remain translucent; whereas flour creates a more muddied appearing sauce.

  9. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle

    I’ve long had such a passion for ‘white’ pasta sauces that I’ve been shunning some great dishes I’m sure. I was recently served mussels with a red cooking base and realize it’s time I quit showing such prejudice!

  10. Midwestern Mary

    It always seems that the white is preferred around here (Chicago area); I don’t know if that’s a regional thing. However, the red has always been my favorite, and I will definitely try this recipe. I am a little intimidated by the anise flavoring, but I will give it a go!

  11. Cassie

    I definitely prefer the clams with red sauce. Also very good with mussels, shrimp, or any combination of the three. I definitely love the seafood paired with linguini – for some reason that pasta shape just tastes the best with seafood!

  12. Greg Walker

    Excellent recipe! We had it last night, prepared to the letter, and it rocked.

    Regarding the anise notes, traditional beurre escargot, served on Escargots a la Bourguignonne, has a notable Pernod, Absinthe, or Anisette presence, which really makes the whole butter/garlic/shallot thing come together. Of course, I will gobble licorice if it is available to me, so I cannot claim that it overcomes any prejudice on my part. . . .

  13. Lady Amalthea

    This is one of my very favorite Italian dishes. I make it similarly but sometimes add some anchovies into the sauce (mash them up; they just give it a deeper flavor) and some crushed red pepper.

    Or I just toss the clams and pasta with garlic and oil. Either way — yum!

  14. angela

    Delicious, this is one of ‘The Artist’s’ favourites! Will be making it soon. Had a courgette gratin with fennel seeds today, very good.

  15. melkozek

    If I were on death row this would be my last meal. Absolutely one of my favorite things in the world. We use the Frugal Gourmet recipe at home, but this is such a simple recipe that all the variations mentioned would be good. Just mix it up, get a good piece of Italian bread and a good white wine from Friuli and enjoy.

  16. Easy Bohemian

    I’ve never tried fennel in a red sauce, but it’s maybe my favorite vegetable and I could see how the flavors would play nice together. Gonna make a batch this weekend. Thanks for posting this!

  17. Ivonne Loving

    Hi! I included this post in this weeks from my reader round-up. Loved the post and thought it would be super useful to my friends and readers. On another note, I have a home management notebook which has a recipe section. I would say that 85% of the recipes are from your site. My husband loves your dishes. I can make something from your site and not worry if my family will like it or not. Thank you!

  18. Phillip

    Another great recipe, just got done cooking it for my Family and they loved it. I only thing that I did differently was add a little more garlic, seems you can never get enough garlic.

  19. Carla

    I made this last night and it was DELISH!! I also added more garlic as we can never get enough. Thank you!

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