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
- 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.