Spaghetti alle vongole is a timeless pasta dish for a reason. A bowl full of tangles of long pasta and sweet, meaty clams in a briny, garlicky, white wine sauce is downright special and a joy to eat. But even the classics are worth customizing from time to time. The addition of preserved lemon paste, scallions, and mint bring this clam pasta into spring.
- Rinse the clams thoroughly in cold water, taking care to remove any sand from the shells. Place the cleaned clams into a large bowl with a generous amount of kosher salt and fill the bowl with cold water (add some ice to the water if your kitchen is warm). Allow the clams to purge (i.e., spit out any sand they’re holding onto) in this salty water for about 30 minutes. Drain, rinse once more, and store them uncovered in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a large high-sided skillet with a lid or a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and the white and lightest green parts of the scallions and sauté, stirring frequently, until softened, fragrant, and just beginning to turn golden. Add the red pepper flakes and cook for another minute. Add the white wine and preserved lemon paste, stir to combine, and bring to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, once the pasta water has come to a boil, season the water generously with salt and add the pasta. Cook according to the package directions until 2 minutes shy of al dente.
- Add the clams to the simmering wine and preserved lemon sauce, cover the pot, raise the heat to medium-high, and allow the clams to steam, undisturbed, just until they’ve opened, 2–3 minutes. Uncover the pot and use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the opened clams to a large bowl. Allow any unopened clams to keep simmering and continue to remove them as they open. (I like to remove the clams to give myself enough room to finish the sauce and really bring it together with the pasta.) Tent your clam bowl with foil and set it aside until you’re ready to serve.
- Drain and add the pasta directly to the clam sauce, along with a splash of pasta water. (It should look quite brothy at this stage; the sauce will thicken considerably while you finish cooking the pasta.) Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce clings to the noodles, another 2–3 minutes. Stir in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, mixing thoroughly until each tablespoon of butter is melted. Add most of the scallion greens, mint, and parsley, and toss to combine. Taste and add more preserved lemon paste, salt, or red pepper flakes, if desired. The dish will tighten as it sits, so if it looks a bit thick, add a final splash of pasta water to keep things saucy. Top the pasta with the steamed clams and a final sprinkle of scallions, mint, and parsley, and serve immediately.
Megan Litt is a Brooklyn-based cook & recipe developer.