With thin vermicelli and tender small clams, this is a very quick cooking (and very delicious) pasta. To get their most intense flavor, though, the clams should be freshly shucked and totally raw when they go into the sauce rather than being steamed in the shell. The method given here—freezing the clams briefly before shucking—makes this task easier than you can imagine, even if you are not a skilled shellfish shucker.
- 3-1/2 pounds little neck clams
- 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- 1 cup tomatoes al filetto—fresh or canned plum tomatoes seeded and sliced in thin strips
- ½ teaspoon peperoncino
- ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt or to taste
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 pound vermicelli
Put the clams in a single layer on a tray or platter and freeze them for about ½ hour. (Slightly frozen clams are easier to open.)
Working over a bowl to catch every drop of clam liquor, open the clams with the shucking knife, cut the meat free from both half shells and let the meat and liquor fall into the bowl. Strain the collected clam meat through a sieve set over a small bowl or measuring cup. Let the sediment in the clam juice settle, then pour off the clean clam juice from the top into a clean bowl, discarding the sediments. Chop the clams roughly into large pieces.
Before starting the sauce, bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta—4 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt.
Pour ½ cup of the olive oil into a large skillet and set over medium-high heat. Scatter in the sliced garlic, heat to sizzling and sprinkle over the peperoncino. Cook another minute, add the sliced or crushed tomatoes and the reserved clam liquor, stir and bring to the boil. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes and stir in the chopped clams. Return to a boil and cook at a bubbling simmer for 3 or 4 minutes—if the clams release a frothy scum, scoop it off the surface and discard. When the sauce has achieved a nice density, just enough to lightly coat a spoon, lower the heat, and season with salt to taste. Stir in the parsley and another 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
When you add the clam juice, drop the vermicelli in the boiling water. Cook briefly, 2-4 minutes, then lift the pasta from the pot using a spider or tongs—it will still be quite al dente. Let it drain briefly and drop it onto the simmering sauce. Toss the vermicelli in the sauce for a couple of minutes until the pasta is cooked through and dressed with the sauce. Serve immediately.