Penne a la Vongole (clams) and big, juicy Mediterranean Prawns)

Guest contributer JW of Madrid via Clapham writes: This is an Italian dish that I have been curious about for a number of years, and what prompted me to try it out was seeing a well-known TV chef preparing it in such a way that I’ve been obsessed with making it ever since. Madrid, which is nowhere near the coast, in any direction, is a good place to get fresh fish and seafood, which is crucial for the taste of the dish.

Penne a la vongole

Preparation time: 60 minutes (if you’re me and less if not)
Cooking time: 20-25 minutes
Skill level: Easy
Serves: 4-5


  • penne rigate – 500g
  • clams (vongole) – 500g
  • fresh, uncooked Mediterranean prawns – 500g
  • a glass of white wine
  • a handful of fresh, preferably very ripe tomatoes
  • 2 large cloves of garlic
  • a generous sprig of fresh parsley
  • olive oil – 2tbsp
  • s & p
  • a small pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional)

Boil the pasta in lots of salted water. You can use any type, but the dish is typically served with spaghetti or linguini. I like the ridged quills because the sauce embeds itself between the ridges and makes the pasta all the more delicious.

While waiting for the water to boil, peel the prawns and listen to music. It’s really therapeutic.

Chop the tomatoes into rustic chunks.

Chop the garlic into chunks, or slice it, whatever you prefer.

Heat the olive oil in a wok or a big, high-sided frying pan, and add the garlic and chilli, if you want the sauce to have a nice after-glow. Once the garlic starts to sizzle, throw in the tomatoes and add a pinch of salt with a few liberal twists of freshly ground black pepper. Cook the tomatoes over a high heat for a few minutes.


In the meantime, heat a large pan and add the white wine. Once it starts boiling, add the clams and cover the pan. Leave to cook for a couple of minutes, or until the clams have opened.

Add the liquid from the clams to the frying tomatoes, turn the heat up and reduce the sauce to a thickish paste. This may take a while, depending on how much clam liquid there was in the first place.

Penne a la vongole

Add the prawns to the sauce and stir them through. After about one minute, once they start to turn pink, pour the clams into the sauce, stir then remove from the heat, as the residual heat from the sauce and pan will continue to cook the prawns to perfection without overdoing it.

Penne a la vongole

Put the pasta into a big serving dish and pour the sauce with all the seafood over it; stir it through. Alternatively, you can put the pasta and sauce into a big pan, stir it and cover it for a few minutes prior to serving.

Add a generous helping of chopped parsley to the sauce and stir it through.

Serve and enjoy, as I’ve been doing for about a month.

Accompany it with a fruity white wine like Albarino or Gewurztraminer, and good company.

Verdict: This has become one of my favourite dishes, both to cook and eat, because it is so simple and delicious. You have to use fresh seafood for the best results.

Drink: A brace of Mahous during preparation, followed by a crisp, fruity Albarino to accompany the dish.

Entertainment: Good banter and the company of friends, followed by a bottle of full-bodied rose from Navarra.

Footnote: Yumblog welcomes its first guest writer, John W – Madrid resident, teacher, tree-fancier, guitar obsessive, full-body stirrer and it turns out, great cook. We were treated to his fine hospitality in July and with it the fantastic heat of Madrid, full body-enveloping warmth without humidity, wonderful.


  1. Ahh, pretty pretty clams. This is one of my favourite – all-time spag dishes. I can never resist lifting the lid on the clams so that I can stir them – it is the noise you see. I can’t get enough of it. Same with mussels.

  2. This looks lovely, definitely going to be cooking this soon.

  3. I never thought I’d say this, living a half km away from the Pacific Ocean and all, but I am totally jealous of your seafood.

  4. Yes, those prawns do look good (close up here) … and they were cheap too. The photo shows only about half of the prawns we actually had, all of which came to under 5 Euros. To be able to afford similar in the UK you’d need to be on a City Tosser’s salary.

    And while we’re on the subject of the sad state of food in this country compared to Europe, it should be noted that Madrid is in the middle of a desert some 367k from the nearest coastline, whilst London sits on the bottom right of a small island only 70k from the sea. The fish counters in Madrid supermarkets are things of joy and wonder which devote acres of space to fresh squid, octopus, seafood, shellfish and all sorts of beautiful and exotic fish.

    Compare that to your local Sainsburys and despair.


  5. I bought some clams yesterday and was planning to make vongole pasta tomorrow. But this took my breath away…

  6. What a glorious looking dish. A combination of shrimp/prawns and clams in a lush tomato sauce = Heaven.

    I do hop you plan on sharing one of your pastas with Presto Pasta Night Roundups.

  7. i went to the market and bought clams today then left them on the tube. gutted

  8. Hi Peter

    Once upon a time, there was Larry the Lobster and Sam the Clam. They were the best of friends. One day, they were both killed. Larry the Lobster went to Heaven and Sam the Clam went to Hell. Larry the Lobster missed Sam the Clam so much, he asked God if he could go to Hell to visit Sam. God agreed, but he told Larry not to forget his harp.

    Larry the Lobster agreed and down to Hell he went. When he found Sam the Clam, he had his own Disco in hell. Larry the Lobster had such a great time with Sam the Clam, that he lost all track of time. Larry heard the voice of God saying “Larry you must come back to Heaven.”

    Larry ran as fast as he could back to Heaven. When God saw Larry, he said, “Where is your Harp?”

    Larry replied, “I left my Harp in Sam Clam’s Disco.”

    Like your photography by the way.



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