We are on a trip through Spain and there are mussels like, well, sand by the sea. We are particularly fond of clams, of which there are again several varieties with different names. The best ones come from Galicia in the far northwest of the country.
Among the most important species is the “Almeja”, which occurs in the varieties Almeja japonesa, turca, fina, babosa and (in Andalusia) rubia. What is known as “Vongole” in Italy is often called “Chirla” in Spain. In addition, from the same family of mussels there are the “Berberechos”, smaller and particularly delicate. These clams have a thick and longitudinally grooved shell and do not contain very much meat, but they are all the more delicious in return.
We bought just such Berberechos and use them to prepare spaghetti alle vongole, a famous Italian dish. It’s tremendously quick and easy. This recipe should also take away any worries about preparing mussels, because this is not complicated at all.
The first thing to understand is that mussels spoil very easily and therefore require special hygiene. Non-frozen mussels should always be processed on the day of purchase. They should still be alive when you buy them and preferably chilled on ice. You can tell they are still alive by the fact that their shells are (almost completely) closed. So we check our clams and immediately throw away any that are clearly open or broken.
Then we put them in cold, salted water for at least 30 minutes, preferably for an hour, and put them back in the fridge. This simulates the sea and the clams open slightly, allowing any sand inside to be washed out.
After this time, pour off the water and wash the clams thoroughly to remove sand and unwanted residues from the shells.
Garlic is peeled and chopped not too finely. Ripe but firm tomatoes are cut into smaller pieces. Also some parsley is washed, shaken dry and chopped coarsely. You can also use the stems. Yes, there are also variations without tomatoes and that works great too. We love the extra fruitiness they bring to the dish. Other recipes contain lemon, which we find dispensable because we love the sweetness of the clams.
Now cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions in heavily salted, boiling water until al dente. Under no circumstances should they become soft to the core, because they will finish cooking later in the clam broth. As always when cooking pasta, do not put a lid on, otherwise the water will boil over immediately.
During this time, everything else is prepared very quickly:
Put olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. Add the garlic (and optionally some finely chopped chilli or dried peperoncino), the clams (without water) and the tomatoes in quick succession. Pour a small amount of white wine over them and keep shaking the pan so that all the mussels come into contact with the heat. Again, no lid is put on.
The first clams will open almost immediately, others take a little longer. Our small Berberechos need only 3 minutes in total, larger clams quite 5 – 6 minutes.
For a particularly smooth clam broth, we recommend adding a little butter and continuing not to stir, but only to keep shaking the pan so that a delicate sauce develops without the stirring separating all the clam meat from the shells. Now also season with salt and delicately with black pepper from the mill.
When the clams have opened after this time, still closed specimens are discarded and the parsley is added at the very end. The clams that are still closed must not be eaten under any circumstances!
Now the pan is taken off the heat. Add the pre-cooked spaghetti to the clam broth. It is best to lift the noodles again and again with two cooking spoons or tongs to bring them all into contact with the sauce, similar to how you would mix a salad with dressing. The pasta should bathe in the clam sauce for at least 2 – 3 minutes so that it takes on the flavour. Take your time, pasta is not served boiling hot.
Now first distribute the pasta on deep plates and then, with the help of a large spoon, pour over more mussels, tomato and clam broth. Cheese of any kind is absolutely taboo in this dish!
And may the taste be with you.
Ingredients (for 2 people):
500 g clams
200 g spaghetti (pasta secca made from semolina)
4 tbsp olive oil
Optional: 1 dried pepperoncino, crumbled or 1 fresh chilli without seeds
2 cloves of garlic
Firm tomato to taste (for us: 1 large plum tomato)
80 ml white wine
Optional: 1 tbsp butter
Coarsely chopped parsley to taste
Salt and black pepper