These wonderful little molluscs have been on my mind a fair bit lately. In Australia we use the words clams and vongole interchangeably because it seems that the Italians introduced this delicious bivalve to the Aussie diet.
Clams are used all around the world and the two most well known dishes would have to be Italy’s spaghetti alle vongole and the USA’s clam chowder, originating in New England.
Clams are shelled marine or freshwater molluscs belonging to the class bivalvia (two valves). This group seems to include oysters, mussels, pipis, cockles and scallops, which either bury themselves into the sand or attach themselves to rocks. In case you live under a rock (no pun intended) and haven’t ever seen a clam before, the soft mollusc lives between two shells which are joined together by a ligament.
The Sydney Fish Market posts little briefs on each species available at the market and their advice on clams is as follows:
Background: In Australia, clams have a gutsy flavour and are low priced products. All clams are available year round, except pipis that are scarcer during winter due to the closure of the South Australian fishery. The various species of clams are harvested from the sandy beaches of the Southern Queensland coast down to the Great Australian Bight and Tasmania. In NSW, the fisheries for cockles and pipis are small hand gathering operations. At low tide the fisher’s use their feet to loosen pipis from the sand in the wash, then collect them. Surf clams are hand gathered by abalone divers in Tasmania and vongole are more common in South Australia.
Buy: Live products should have closed shells or should close when gently squeezed or tapped. They are also available pickled or frozen. Allow 360g – 600g per person for a main course.
Store: Live bivalves do not keep well out of a tank. The severe cold of the refrigerator will cause bivalves to die. The optimum storage temperature for bi-valves is 5-12°C, a cool dark place, such as an esky covered with a wet hessian bag is best. During the warmer months store the bivalves in the refrigerator and use within 2 days of purchasing.
Cook: For clams that have not been purged, place them in a bucket or bowl of lightly salted cool water for 30 – 45 minutes just prior to cooking. To open the clams use an oyster knife to shuck the clams as you would an oyster. Alternatively steam the clams in a large heavy based pot with a tight fitting lid. Pour in enough white wine or water to cover the base, bring to the boil and add the clams, put the lid on tightly and shake the pot occasionally, for 1½ – 3 minutes or until the shells have opened. Keep this steaming liquor to use in the sauce or soup. Discard any shells that do not open on cooking.
Well, on Saturday I was home alone and decided to cook this for my own dinner before I braved the rain and wind to go see Tim the Fruitophob play in his band, GangAwry.
Spaghetti alle Vongole
This is my recipe for spaghetti with a clam and white wine sauce. Serves 4.
1.5 kg clams
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 anchovies, chopped roughly
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped roughly
2½ cups dry white wine
1. Start cooking the pasta, following the instructions on the packet until the spaghetti is al dente.
2. Rinse clams, rubbing to remove sand, and discard any open clams that don’t close after being gently squeezed or tapped.
3. In a pot heat the olive oil then fry the garlic, chilli and anchovies. Add clams and parsley, cover and shake pot for 1-2 minutes until clams start to open.
4. Add wine, replace lid and simmer on low until the clams are open. Discard any clams that didn’t open.
5. At this point you can decide whether you want to serve the clams in their shells or whether you want to remove these for ease of eating. If you want to remove the shells, make sure you keep sixteen clams in their shells to decorate each bowl with four shells.
6. Drain pasta and add to pot. Mix thoroughly to coat in sauce. Serve immediately (top with clams in shells if they have been shelled) and drink with a dry white wine.