FoodEmbrace Neapolitan Tradition: Spaghetti alle vongole makes its mark

Embrace Neapolitan Tradition: Spaghetti alle vongole makes its mark

Spaghetti alle vongole
Spaghetti alle vongole
Images source: © Getty Images | marcodotto

12:46 PM EST, December 18, 2023

Neanderthals were feasting on seafood as far back as 150,000 years ago, as recent Spanish archaeological discoveries in the Bajondillo cave suggest. The scientists unearthed the stone tools used to crack open shells of mollusks gathered on seashore rocks. Such seafood treats were a valuable dietary addition to these early humans.

Clams have been a dietary staple for centuries for the residents of Campania, a region nestled in Southern Italy. The regional capital, Naples, birthed copious worldwide known delicacies, such as pizza. Another globally recognized dish, spaghetti alle vongole - pasta with clams, originated here as well.

This dish gained popularity in the 18th century. Ippolito Cavalcanti, the Duke of Buonvicino, was an aristocrat, culinary enthusiast, and author of the renowned work penned in Neapolitan dialect, "Cucina teorico-pratica," published in 1847, who made note of it.

Spaghetti alle vongole has long been a key part of the Neapolitan Christmas menu. Perhaps it's worth considering it for our Christmas Eve dinner table?

Nutritional values of clams

As with other seafood, clams are packed with valuable nutrients. They offer an easily digestible and full-value protein, containing nearly all essential amino acids in a ratio that most meets human needs. These include lysine, which improves mental concentration and is crucial for muscles and bones, and cysteine, the deficiency of which could lead to split hair ends or brittle nails.

Seafood is rich in unsaturated fatty acids, which positively affect the circulatory system, lower blood pressure, reduce harmful LDL cholesterol, boost immunity, and even show potential antidepressant effects.

Clams come packed with zinc, known to raise testosterone levels, which explains why seafood has been deemed a powerful aphrodisiac for centuries. They are also a good source of selenium and iodine, necessary for the proper functioning of the body, particularly the thyroid gland.

Another benefit of clams is their low calorie count, making them a suitable addition to the diet of those looking to lose weight.

Spaghetti alle vongole - recipe

Clams, both fresh and frozen, are increasingly available in stores. Although the former is the more delicious option, keep in mind that clams only survive for 5–7 days. However, with proper distribution and storage methods, this period can extend up to 10 days. Beyond this, they become unfit, and even harmful, for consumption.

To verify the freshness of clams, smell them first - an unpleasant odor should dissuade you from consuming them. Similarly, a wide-open shell could indicate a dead clam. Tapping it on a hard surface will confirm your suspicion. If it doesn't close, you should discard it right away. However, if it doesn't open after heat treatment, it's safer not to eat.

Spaghetti alle vongole
Spaghetti alle vongole© Getty Images | Karl Tapales

Frozen seafood does not require such scrutiny, as it gets pasteurized in factories, which typically ensures it's fit for consumption. It should be defrosted slowly, preferably in the refrigerator.

To prepare spaghetti alle vongole, you will need just over 2 pounds of clams. Soak them for 20 minutes in highly salted water, followed by a 10-minute soak in cold, unsalted water.

Simultaneously, cook about 12 ounces of spaghetti until it's "al dente" (firm and slightly hard). Heat the olive oil in a pan, adding and frying the sliced garlic (3 cloves) and chopped chili pepper (half). Throw in the clams, white wine (nearly 1.5 fluid ounces), cover, and simmer on high heat, frequently shaking the pan.

The clams should be ready within 2-3 minutes. Discard any unopened ones. Toss in the pasta and chopped parsley, season with freshly ground black pepper, mix, and serve. Bon appétit!

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