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.

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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 tablespoons extra virgin 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 tablespoon 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 Separate clams from juices: 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 Cook onion, fennel, garlic: 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 ouzo, boil down, add tomato paste: 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 tomatoes, clam juice, salt, sugar, then simmer: 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.

6 Cook clams in sauce: 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.)

7 When the pasta is ready, drain it and put it in a large bowl.

8 Add clams, fennel fronds to sauce: 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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Linguine with Red Clam Sauce

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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11 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Carla

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


  2. 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.


  3. 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!

  4. 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. . . .


  5. 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!

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