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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:
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.
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?).
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 without abandon. Since we ditched the mollusks, I especially like it here. More chili flakes for sprinkling? Always. More wine for drinking? Always, always.
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs (or panko)
- 4 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)
- Zest of 1 small lemon
- 2 large or 3 small garlic cloves, minced or microplaned
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for serving
- One (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 ounces linguine (or spaghetti or any other long, twirlable noodle)
- 2/3 cup chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaf, plus more for serving
- Finely grated or ground parmesan, for serving
What's your favorite chickpea or clam (or both?!) recipe? Tell us about it in the comments!