Nearly every region of Italy has its own version of spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams).
“Italians come in and make a huge scene about us using parsley, or not using chile flakes, even if it’s just one degree off from their childhood memory,” says John Taboada, owner of East Burnside’s haven of Italian home cooking, Luce, as well as nearby Navarre.
Rather than using pedestrian red pepper flakes, which offer only fleeting hits of burnt spice, Taboada infuses his olive oil with squat, fire-engine-red dried chiles from Calabria—the toe of Italy’s boot—adding nutty layers of heat throughout and a subtle tingling sensation on the lips.
That wave of warmth mingles with the silky depth of wine, pasta, and clams to create an Italian classic that’s simple to prepare—and easy to love.
Clam Pasta with Calabrian Chiles
- 1 lb dried spaghetti
- ½ cup olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
- 2 whole dried Calabrian chiles*, split lengthwise and deseeded (or ½ tsp of chile flakes)
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 3 lbs manila clams
- ½ cup white wine
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, scrub clams and submerge in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes to purge them of sand. Tap any open clams; discard those that do not close.
2. Heat oil and garlic in a deep skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add chiles and cook 5 minutes longer, or until the garlic is almost black. Discard garlic and chiles. Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente.
3. While pasta cooks, turn the heat on the skillet to medium-high, add parsley, and fry quickly, about a minute. Add clams; when they start to open add wine and steam, uncovered, until most have opened. Discard any unopened clams.
4. Drain pasta, add to skillet, toss until coated, and serve immediately.
*Available at Luce, which doubles as an imported-foods shop, $7/2.5 oz