Meet the Chickpeas Who Dream of Being Clams

February  8, 2018

Linguine with clams isn’t actually about the clams. It’s about the linguine, the garlic, the white wine, the parsley, the chili flakes, the olive oil, the butter. And, in this case, the chickpeas.

Also known as linguine with clam sauce or linguine with white clam sauce or linguine con le vongole, this old-school Italian dish is all about simplicity. In the original, you sauté garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil, add raw clams and white wine, cover and simmer until the clams start to gasp, toss with just-cooked linguine, parsley, and butter (and maybe breadcrumbs and grated parm), and always serve with more wine. The result is boozy, briny, cozy, like someone hugging you as you stand along the shore with your feet in the sea.

But it’s a chore to make. Not the process itself, but the ingredient sourcing and timing: track down tiny clams, scrub them, de-grit them, and cook them as soon as possible. If you’re like me, your dinner plans get shuffled and reshuffled like cards. Which bumps linguine and clams from the weeknight staple deck to weekend/special occasion. Which is a bummer if you’re, again, like me, and you love linguine with clams.

This recipe riff fixes all that. In essence, it is a one-ingredient swap, all the flavor, none of the fuss. A humble can of chickpeas dresses up as the tiniest, tenderest cockles, and we can’t tell who is who anymore. Here’s how to give garbanzos the clam treatment:

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Breadcrumbs. Fresh, not dried (though panko will do in a pinch). Preferably a white Italian variety, like focaccia or ciabatta, but sourdough and whole-wheat, also good. Bread loaf butts are welcome here, too. Pulse in a food processor, or use a knife, or your hands. Fry in olive oil with minced anchovies. Shower with lemon zest.

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Top Comment:
“Reaguarding writers mention of Parmesan: for the record I am one of those “Philistines” who puts Parmesan on certain types of Italian seafood dishes (mostly containing a pasta), I am not ashamed! 🙃”
— MarZig

Chickpea sauce. Sauté minced garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Add all the white wine. The chickpeas will hang out in this bubble bath until they are happy as, ahem, a clam (you didn’t expect me to get through this whole article without saying that, did you?).

Clams? Chickpeas? You tell me! Photo by Bobbi Lin

Linguine. Undercook ever so slightly, this way you can transfer it to the chickpea sauce skillet to finish. And don’t toss that salty pasta water! It will take on the role formerly played by briny clam broth. It will also help thicken the sauce. As soon as you add the pasta and its water—start with a big splash, then add more as needed—throw in a hunk of butter, too.

Finishing touches. Parsley is non-negotiable. Ideally, it’s flat-leaf but if you can only find curly, that’ll do. Parmesan is a point of contention: Some say it has no place on linguine with clams (seafood, cheese, etc). Others sprinkle it with abandon. Since we ditched the mollusks, I especially like it here. More chili flakes for sprinkling? Always. More wine for drinking? Always, always.

What's your favorite chickpea or clam (or both?!) recipe? Tell us about it in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Christian Harrison
    Christian Harrison
  • MarZig
  • Poniesss403
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Christian H. May 13, 2018
Sounds positively delectable.

One note: “with abandon”. :-)
Emma L. May 14, 2018
Thanks for the catch :)
MarZig March 16, 2018
Sounds delicious! Will give it a try. Reaguarding writers mention of Parmesan: for the record I am one of those “Philistines” who puts Parmesan on certain types of Italian seafood dishes (mostly containing a pasta), I am not ashamed! 🙃
Poniesss403 February 11, 2018
I can't wait to try this! I'm not a huge fan of clams but of course love everything else about this dish. Brilliant idea with the chickpeas!