A few weeks ago Mr. Mom’s Kitchen and I took off for a much-needed overnight away from the kids. We did some nutty stuff, like — slept, read, took a walk, took a run, ate, snuggled, watched a movie — all blissfully uninterrupted. On route to the getaway, we stopped in Sausalito, just North of San Francisco, for an al fresco lunch at Fish, a restaurant known for its skillfully prepared sustainable seafood. I picked up a pound of clams on our way out for our dinner that night.

Tinkering in the kitchen without the swirl of kids felt downright decadent. Eating dinner for two at nine p.m. seemed like we were really going off the rails. I sauteed up those pretty little clams, still in their shells, in garlic, wine and a scattering of parsley, and served them over linguine. It was tasty and satisfying, but strangely, didn’t seem to measure up to the old-school version I grew up on using canned clams.

Spaghetti and clams was a dinner staple in my house. No doubt, it was the first pasta I ever ate. Nobody did it better than my grandfather, Bapa, who was never shy with the butter or garlic. I was curious if the canned clam recipe could really be as good as I remembered it, indeed, superior to one made with fresh clams. So last week I cooked up spaghetti with clams for family dinner.

It didn’t disappoint. And with only five ingredients and minimal prep, it can be knocked out in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Weeknight Spaghetti and Clams, indeed. The dish also measures up in terms of sustainability and nutrition. Clams rank in the “best choice” and “good alternatives” category according to Seafood Watch They are high in protein, iron and zinc, off the charts in selenium, and low in fat. I’m less generous with the butter and oil than Bapa, using enough to add richness and to coax the flavor from the garlic and relying on a splash of clam juice to coat the pasta Cooking the pasta al dente is key, both for taste and nutrition, something you can read about here.

My crew gobbled down the Spaghetti and Clams with great enthusiasm. I, of course, lapped up every briny, garlicky, savory bite. Mr. Mom’s Kitchen missed out completely; he was on the road for work. Perhaps I’ll save it up to make on our next overnight getaway.

spaghetti clams
5 from 3 votes

Old School Spaghetti and Clams

With just five ingredients and minimal prep, this supper can be knocked out in the time it takes to cook the pasta.
Course Dinner
Cuisine Italian
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 to 5 servings
Author katiemorford


  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Four 6.5 ounce cans chopped clams in clam juice
  • ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Pinch or 2 crushed red pepper (optional)


  1. Get a big pot of generously salted water going on the stove to cook your pasta. When the water boils, cook the spaghetti until al dente.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, pour the olive oil and butter into a large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter melts, drop the heat to medium-low and add the garlic. Saute the garlic for a minute or two until it softens a bit and releases its aroma. Do your best to avoid browning the garlic, since that will make it bitter.

  3. While your garlic is cooking, open the cans of clams and drain off all but 1/3 cup of the clam juice. Set that aside. Once the garlic is tender and aromatic, add the clams to the pan and sauté for a minute or two.

  4. When the pasta is cooked and drained, add it to the skillet with the clams, along with the 1/3 cup of clam juice and the chopped parsley. Cook it for a final 2 minutes or so, coating the pasta with the sauce. I like to use tongs to turn the pasta in the pan.
  5. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add crushed red pepper for a little kick of heat, if desired.
  6. Serve immediately.