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in the kitchen with: casey barber’s drunken spaghetti with clams

by Kristina Gill

I was never interested in spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) until I stayed in Naples for a week for work and ate dinner by myself. Without the influence of friends’ orders, I let the waiter bring me his choice from the menu. Maybe because I was an obvious tourist or maybe because it’s one of the things you have to eat when you go to Naples (along with pizza and sfogliatelle, and a few other really good things), spaghetti alle vongole is what he brought. It was absolutely perfect. The right degree of spiciness, perfect al dente spaghetti — perfect everything. Though Romans do it well, too, the Naples dish conquered my palate. This week, Casey Barber, recipe developer and editor of Good.Food.Stories., shares her own recipe for Drunken Spaghetti with Clams, an equally tasty variation on the theme. If you are curious about cooking seafood and need a go-to guide, I highly recommend the book Fish by Mitch Tonks, which not only has the names of fish in four languages (great for me here in Italy!) but also notes the buying season and includes great recipes. More about Casey and her recipe after the jump.  — Kristina

About Casey: Casey Barber is a freelance writer and recipe developer, as well as the editor of Good. Food. Stories., an online magazine focusing on food from a storyteller’s perspective. She has written about everything from homemade Cheez-Its and down-and-dirty dive bars to the culinary influence of the World’s Fair for Gourmet LiveReadyMade, iVillage, Time Out New York and other print and online publications. Casey can often be found making a huge mess in her New Jersey kitchen, heading into New York to buy yet another cake stand at Fishs Eddy or plotting her next trip home to Pittsburgh for a Primanti’s sandwich.

Drunken Spaghetti with Clams
Makes 4 servings

Notes: Inspect your clams and discard any broken or cracked ones. Place your clams in a bowl of water large enough to cover them with an inch or two of water. Add a tiny bit of salt. Let the clams sit for a while — 20 minutes to two hours — so that they release their sand. Discard any clams that float. Remove the clams with a strainer from the water. Once you cook the clams, you should also discard any that do not open.


  • 2 bottles dry white wine (I’m currently obsessed with Albarino, but because of the quantity needed, an inexpensive Pinot Grigio will work well.)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 32 littleneck clams, shells rinsed and scrubbed
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, minced



1. Bring 2 quarts of water and 1 bottle of white wine to a boil in a lidded stockpot.

2. When the water and wine are almost to a boil, warm the olive oil in a large sauté pan or high-sided skillet over medium-low heat and add the garlic and red pepper flakes.

3. Cook, stirring, for a minute to release the aromas, then add 1 + 1/2 cups white wine and boost the heat to medium-high, bringing the wine to a simmer.

4. Add the clams and cover the pan to steam until they open, approximately 7 to 8 minutes.

5. Toss the spaghetti into the stockpot of boiling water and wine and stir to submerge, cooking until al dente.

6. Remove the opened clams from the pan and reserve, covered.   While the pan sauce continues to simmer for a few more minutes, reducing slightly.  Monitor sauce from time to time.  Remember, the more it reduces the saltier it will taste.

7. Stir the butter into the pan sauce and add salt and pepper as needed to taste.

8. Remove the cooked pasta from its pot with tongs and transfer to the pan sauce, stirring to coat.

9. Divide the pasta between 4 bowls. Top each with 8 clams and a sprinkled handful of parsley. Drink the rest of the remaining bottle of white wine with your meal.

Photography and styling by Kristina Gill. White dipping bowl by mud australia; cutting board by Andrea Brugi; napkin and small glass from Merci; yellow glass from Zara Home; all other items vintage

Why Casey Loves This Recipe

Clams are hands-down my favorite bivalve (scratch that, my favorite seafood), and I’m obsessively reading every recipe for spaghetti alle vongole I lay eyes on to get new ideas for making a big bowl of the stuff. This “Frankensteinian” combo was inspired by Ferran Adria, who adds clam broth instead of salt to the pasta water, and the Tuscan dish, spaghetti all’ubriaco, in which pasta is simmered in red wine.

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  • Now I’m craving this. Only problem, it just seems like a big waste of wine. Do you really taste it in the spaghetti? I’d like a side-by-side taste test with and without the wine in the pasta water.

  • Sounds great!! I think you forgot to “add the pasta” in step 2 or 3, though. Can’t wait to try

  • i have never tried cooking clams before, but this recipe makes it seem simple enough (that is if i can even find them locally!). this dish looks beautiful. i am definitely bookmarking this to try one weekend when i have time to experiment. perfect for us pescatarians.

  • Wonderful! I made a dish similar to this for my man last Valentine’s Day, and this year might be a repeat performance. I’m very curious about cooking the pasta in wine-water (maybe there is a better term for this) but I will try anything once! Thanks for the recipe.

  • My parents often indulged in big, garlicky bowls of spaghetti with clam sauce– usually after long car trips back to Boston from the Adirondacks. Actually, I’d say our family coat of arms should probably be a big bowl of spag. & clams. I’m excited to see an updated, more gourmet version here, and I will definitely be trying this one out! : )

  • DB- just make sure you leave the clams in water with a little salt for long enough that they put out the sand and grit! Otherwise it will be SO unpleasant! And yes, it’s SINFULLY easy!

  • Any suggestions for a vegetarian version? Something to replace the salt of the clams, maybe? I’m not vegetarian but I can’t eat shellfish and I’m not sure a meat would go as well…

  • Sounds amazing -and looks beautiful too! Although I love eating clams, I’ve always been a bit afraid of making them myself – but I would like to give this recipe a try! I will be bold -and if all else fails, I will order pizza!

  • Mmmm yummy. I just bought some black spaghetti and plan on making black spaghetti crab alfredo on Sunday…. Sunday can’t come soon enough after seeing this post.

  • Chrissy- throw some diced prosciutto in there, its got the salt but it does make this a completely different dish with a more “in your face” flavor. A white fish cooked separately and laid on top, then drizzled with the sauce would be great. If you want it truly vegetarian you could try sauteed mushrooms, I suppose. Or capers, they have that briny-ness. Hope this helps!

  • I have to say, I cook this dish all the time, but never with wine in the water. You really need salted water to add flavour to the pasta, watered down wine to me would be a waste when it’s better to just drink it!

  • Agreeing with Kate on all her suggestions for shellfish-intolerant folk – yes, anything you substitute for the clams will make this a completely different dish, but you can also use fish stock in place of clam juice as long as the stock is made with fish bones and not shrimp/lobster shells.

    Karen, I do think the taste of the wine is evident in the dish and it really makes a difference. That’s why I recommend a more affordable grape like Pinot Grigio or even a Sauvignon Blanc, both of which have a number of producers offering bottles under $10. You will have some wine left over, so don’t forget to pour yourself a glass!

  • I tried this recipe last night and was so dissapointed. The clams were unbelievably salty! I am not sure what went wrong, but the clams were inedible by me, my husband and even the dog! The pasta was delicious in the sauce and you could taste the wine, but it was a definite waste of time and money to end up with just some noodles.

    • Eliz

      I’m so sorry to hear that- did the portion of the recipe with the clams and salt overlook? Sometimes when sauces or dishes sit too long the juices over-reduce and get much saltier.


  • Hi Eliz-

    I agree with what Grace has written. I made this twice to photograph it, and the first time I reduced the sauce too much and it was a bit salty. We will add a note. Thank you for pointing out this potential pitfall!

  • spaghetti with clams is my all-time favorite meal. I order it at every single restaurant that has it on the menu and compare/contrast throughout the meal. I’m sure my husband loves this :)
    I haven’t yet had a super successful try on my own, but I’m going to make this tonight!!! yay!