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Spaghetti with Mussels and Clams

As for many Italian dishes, the quality of the ingredients that go into the dish are critical to the quality of the dish itself. Use best quality, imported spaghetti—nothing ruins this dish like mushy pasta! The oil should be the deep green, fruity kind. The garlic should be absolutely fresh. And the clams should preferably be the small, sweet variety. In Italy, the clams known as vongole veraci are the most common variety for this dish, although the tiny clams called lupini (not to be confused with lupini beans) are especially prized for their tiny size and sweetness. Elsewhere, I find Manila or ‘short neck’ clams (the latter are pictured above) are excellent; both have the small, thin shells and sweet flesh that you are looking for. In a pinch, littlenecks—although a bit too large—will also do. If you can’t find small clams, you may want to use the clams out of the shell and cut them into pieces. Some very large, hard-shelled clams, however, like the Quahog, are simply too tough to be palatable in this dish. If you don’t have peperoncino on hand, you can used crushed red pepper flakes, but add them only just before adding your claim juice to avoid them burning and turning bitter. Some versions call for black pepper instead.

Besides the right ingredients, there are two key points of technique to bear in mind: Don’t skimp on the olive oil, which should be very abundant to ensure that the pasta has the right ‘slippery’ consistency. And don’t overcook the pasta. Of course, you should never overcook the pasta, but it is absolutely critical for this dish. In fact, as indicated above, you should slightly undercook the pasta as it needs to simmer for a minute or two in the sauce.

In Naples, where this dish originated, the typical pasta is vermicelli, a spaghetti-like long pasta. Spaghetti are probably the most common pasta elsewhere in Italy. And linguine also make for a fine choice.

There are three principal variations of spaghetti with clam sauce. The ‘mother’ recipe follows the method above but is entire in bianco, leaving out the pomodorini. The second version is in rosso, calls for the addition of tomato to the garlic and oil base to make a kind of sugo di pomodoro. The above version, which adds a few pomodorini, represents a kind of middle ground and is my personal favorite, while I find that an actual tomato sauce covers up the delicate taste of the clams. The same technique can be used with just about any mollusk, including mussels. Many Italian recipes call for steaming open the clams directly in the skillet with the garlic and oil, but I find steaming them open separately is a ‘safer’ choice if you have any doubts about lingering sand in the clams.

You can find some rather horrendous versions (I’d call them perversions) of spaghetti with clam sauce online. One common variant among Italian-American sources is the addition of oregano to clam sauce, something to avoid since the assertive taste of oregano completely throws off the balance of flavors. You may be tempted to use bottled minced clams and clam juice, a common ‘shortcut’ often found in online recipes, but frankly, you’ll lose all the charm of the dish. Commercially available minced clams tend to come from larger, tougher clams and lack flavor. And I’ve even seen some recipes that call for using a roux of butter and flour to thicken the sauce—the very thought of it makes me cringe.

One final note: unless you want to commit culinary heresy—and ruin a lovely dish in the process—do not under any circumstances add grated cheese to your spaghetti with clam sauce!

Day 1 – Arrive in Athens

The most pleasant weather occurs in May-June and September-October. The warmest time of the year starts in mid-July and generally lasts until mid-August, when the annual meltémi winds from the north cool the country. Mid-July to mid-August is the height of summer, and the midday sun tends to get very strong; during this time, most Greeks avoid heavy physical activity outdoors between 1:00 and 5:00 PM.

Day 2 – Full Day Athens Tour

Summer evenings tend to be very rewarding. As strong as the sun may get on a summer afternoon, the low levels of atmospheric humidity in most areas of the country prevent the air from trapping much heat, and temperatures tend to dip to very pleasant levels in the evenings. But even during midday, high temperatures actually tend to be quite comfortable as long as the time is not spent doing a lot of walking or other physical activity.

Day 3 – Fly to Corfu

While the Mediterranean climate characterizes most of the country, there are two other climate systems that are present. One is the cool Alpine climate which is found on mountainous areas of the country’s interior, including many high-altitude valleys. Another system is the Continental climate found on the interiors of north-central and northeastern Greece, and gives those areas very cold winters and warm, relatively humid summers.

Day 4 – Fly Back Home

Athens’ Elefthérios Venizélos International Airport located near the Athens suburb of Spáta is the country’s largest, busiest airport and main hub, handling over 15 million passengers annually as of 2006. Other major international airports in terms of passenger traffic are, in order of passengers served per year, Heraklion (Nikos Kazantzákis Int’l), Thessaloniki (Makedonia Int’l), Rhodes (Diagóras), and Corfu (Ioánnis Kapodístrias).

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Important Information

Price Includes

  • Round trip airport or train station transfers.
  • 4 nights accommodation in aparthotel in London.
  • Breakfast daily.
  • Day touring as per the itinerary.

Price Excludes

  • Round trip airport or train station transfers.
  • 4 nights accommodation in aparthotel in London.
  • Breakfast daily.
  • Day touring as per the itinerary.

Terms & Conditions

Prices are “from”, per person, based on 2 adults and 2 children (under the age of 12) sharing, and include all taxes. Subject to availability. 4 nights’ accommodation in an aparthotel in London. Breakfast daily. Day touring as per the itinerary.