This recipe for Italian baked stuffed clams, or clams oreganata, brings together fresh littleneck clams, crispy panko breadcrumbs, and a burst of flavors from pecorino romano, parsley, white wine, and lemon juice. Perfect to kick-start any seafood dinner, this easy and delicious appetizer will transport your taste buds straight to the charming Italian coasts.
Clams Oreganata is a traditional Italian appetizer with light and bright flavors that make it a perfect dish for warm summer evenings when you're looking for something fresh and flavorful to enjoy with a crisp glass of white wine.
These clams follow the traditional Italian preparation known as oreganata, similar to my recipe for Flounder Oreganata. Just like the fish, these clams get topped with a lemony, buttery, garlicky, herby breadcrumb mixture that tastes good on just about everything.
However, don't let the summery vibe fool you! Both of these are also a classic addition to winter holiday festivities. Baked stuffed clams are traditionally served at Italian Christmas Eve celebration, the Feast of the Seven Fishes!
You'll find this seafood appetizer and many others (like linguini alla vongole and scampi) at my family's holiday gatherings and for a good reason! These freshly baked stuffed clams always stand out on a table filled with a variety of seafood dishes.
How I made this baked stuffed clams recipe my own
Not only is my family full of Italian commercial fishermen, but my Aunt Mary, who once owned an Italian restaurant in Cape May, NJ, called Godmothers, is famous for her baked stuffed clams! My version is just a little bit different.
For instance, I use littleneck clams because I love how petite and tender they are. I also leave the clam intact and put the stuffing on top, as opposed to chopping the clams and mixing them into the stuffing like my family does.
As an expert in Italian seafood cuisine and a trained chef with years of experience under my belt, I'm confident that my take on this classic dish is the best version you will try!
Why this recipe works
- This recipe for baked stuffed clams is flavorful and fresh!
- The panko breadcrumbs and pecorino Romano come together to make a crunchy and savory stuffing that provides a delicious contrast to the tender littleneck clams.
- The white wine and lemon juice add a bright acidity that balances the richness of the clam stuffing.
- Despite the gourmet taste, this recipe for baked stuffed clams is surprisingly simple to make, making it a perfect choice for entertaining.
- Make this seafood appetizer ahead of time and pop it in the oven before your guests arrive for a stress-free start to any dinner party. You can also assemble and freeze them to enjoy later.
- Clams: I prefer using Littleneck clams for this recipe because they're the perfect size to eat in one bite, and they have a sweet and briny flavor that pairs beautifully with the other ingredients. Top neck clams or "middleneck" clams also work well, but the quantities of the recipe will need to be adjusted slightly. Always buy fresh clams from a reputable seafood market. Keep an eye out for any open or cracked clams and discard them before cooking.
- Pecorino Romano: This salty, sharp Italian cheese adds a nice tangy flavor to the stuffing. If you can't find it, parmesan cheese is a great substitute. Always use the best quality cheese - I prefer Locatelli Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano. I recommend grating your own cheese for the freshest flavor.
- Panko Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumbs are the key to getting a crispy topping on the baked clams. These Japanese-style breadcrumbs are lighter and crunchier than traditional breadcrumbs, making them ideal for this recipe. If you can't find panko, regular breadcrumbs will work too, but they won't be as light and crisp.
- Oregano: As the name of this recipe suggests, oregano (oreganata) is an important ingredient. Its earthy and slightly bitter flavor adds depth to the clam stuffing. Use Sicilian oregano if you can find it, as it has a superior flavor, but any type of dried oregano will work as well.
- Lemons: One of the things I love about this recipe is using the whole lemon! You'll need both the lemon juice AND the lemon zest for the stuffing. Fresh lemon juice adds a nice tartness and helps cut through the richness of the clam meat and buttery breadcrumbs. Make sure you have some extra lemon wedges for serving!
- Parsley: Flat-leaf Italian parsley adds a bright freshness to the stuffing, but curly parsley will work too.
- White Wine: This recipe calls for dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. The wine adds a subtle sweetness and acidity to the dish, balancing out the flavors. Steaming the clams in the wine gets some of that flavor into the clam meat as well.
*Full ingredient list with quantities is in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- Saucepan or pot with a lid: You'll need this for steaming open the clams. Make sure it's deep enough and has a lid!
- Sauté Pan - To cook the clam stuffing before it tops the clams.
- Microplane Grater or Zester: Freshly grated pecorino romano and lemon zest add tons of flavor to the clam stuffing. I recommend grating your own cheese and zesting your own lemons, as the pre-grated options often have additives that can affect the taste.
- Baking Sheet: This is where you'll place the assembled clams before baking them in the oven. Make sure it's large enough to fit all of your clams in a single layer. You can also use a large casserole dish, but I find the stuffing doesn't get quite as crisp.
Start by preheating the oven to 450°F. This is also the perfect time to wash and scrub the clams clean.
1) Melt some butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once it's melted, add the shallot and cook until it becomes translucent, about 3 minutes. Next, add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute or two.
2) Time to add some flavor! Throw in the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, lemon juice, crushed red pepper, parsley, and grated cheese. Give it a good stir until everything is fully combined.
3) Heat another deep saucepan over high heat. Pour in the white wine and let it come to a boil, then, add the clams and cover with the lid. After about 3 minutes, open the lid and transfer any open clams to a bowl. Repeat this process until all the clams have opened.
Tip: The goal is to cook the clams for as little time as possible to prevent them getting chewy. Check frequently and remove them the second they start to open.
Don't forget to reserve the liquid! Take 3 tablespoons of the cooking liquid and add it to the breadcrumb mixture. Mix it all together until well combined.
4) Let the clams cool, then twist off one side and keep the meat in the other half. Arrange the clams on a rimmed baking sheet.
5) Set up a workstation with the clams, breadcrumb mixture, and a spoon. Spoon the breadcrumb mixture onto each clam shell so that it completely covers the meat. Pour the remaining liquid into the bottom of the pan to keep the clams moist as they cook.
6) Pop it into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes until the clams are bubbling and starting to crisp. Turn on the broiler for another 1-2 minutes to brown the tops. Keep a close eye on them to sure they don't burn.
Once they're done, arrange the clams on a plate, sprinkle with more parsley, and serve with extra lemon wedges on the side. Enjoy!
Tips for success
- You need fresh, whole clams for this recipe - not frozen or canned. Personally, I prefer littlenecks, and ask my fishmonger to pick out slightly larger clams, as the really small ones can overcook and get rubbery more easily.
- You can also go for larger clams, like top necks, but then you'll either need to double the filling or cut down the clams to 12.
- Make sure to wash clams well before cooking, especially if they're sandy. If you have time, purge them first by soaking them in salted water for about 30 minutes or overnight to help them release any sand.
- Before cooking, make sure to check that all the clams are alive. You can tell if a clam is dead when it's slightly open in its raw state. To test if a clam is alive, just give it a gentle tap. If it closes, you know it's alive and ready to go!
- The key is to cook the clams as little as possible so they don't get rubbery. Check the pot every 30 seconds and remove them as soon as they just begin to open.
- Some clams might take a bit longer to open - wait for at least 10 minutes before giving up on them. Make sure the liquid is at a rolling boil and give the pan a few good shakes to encourage them to open. If they don't open by then, it's probably best to toss them out, as they may be bad.
- You can also choose to shuck the clams and stuff them raw if you like, but personally, I find it easier to steam them open. Just make sure to take them out of the pot the moment they open, and they won't get tough.
- Don't be afraid to add your own twist to this clams oreganata recipe! You can try adding other herbs and spices to the breadcrumb mixture and swapping out different types of cheese.
These baked clams make a perfect appetizer. Enjoy them with a chilled glass of white wine - my favorites are Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc - or dry rosé, as they complement the dish perfectly.
Plan the perfect dinner party menu, starting with a variety of Italian appetizers (like this tuna carpaccio), followed by an assortment of seafood dishes like these Italian baked stuffed clams, herb-roasted fish with Meyer lemon and pan-seared scallops. Finish the night with some homemade lemon ice cream or pignoli cookies!
Tip: If you having a family gathering soon, consider hosting a Feast of Seven Fishes and make these baked stuffed clams as one of the seven!
While both dishes feature baked clams, the main difference is in the stuffing. Clams Casino typically includes bacon and bell peppers, while Clams Oreganata has a breadcrumb and cheese-based stuffing with herbs like oregano.
The best way to enjoy clams without all the gritty sand is to buy them from a fresh local source and clean them really well.
Start by rinsing the clams in cold water and scrubbing them with a brush to remove any dirt or sand. Then soak them in a bowl of cold saltwater (¼ cup of salt per 1 gallon of water) for about 30 minutes. This will help the clams expel any remaining sand or grit!
Then, use a scrub brush and scrub the shells really well to remove any dirt and debris. Rinse them with some more fresh water and pat them dry.
No, fresh clams are essential for recipe. If fresh clams are unavailable to you, look for a recipe that specifically calls for frozen or canned clams for best results.
No, it's important not to eat any clams that haven't opened after being steamed. This is a sign that the clam was already dead before cooking and could make you sick if you eat it.
So, just toss away any clams that didn't open up.
My Aunt Mary makes her famous baked stuffed clams with pre-chopped canned clams and bakes them in aluminum clam shells like these, but my recipe relies on using fresh clams.
So, while it is possible to bake them in something other than their own shells, this recipe is specifically designed for using fresh clams.
Baked clams are really best enjoyed as soon as they are done baking. However, they can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
To reheat, place them on a baking sheet and bake at 375°F for about 5-8 minutes until heated through, any longer and the clams will be rubbery. I don't recommend heating them up in the microwave.
Clams oreganata can also be prepared and frozen for up to a month, then baked right from frozen before serving. Reduce the oven to 425°F and cook for 18-20 minutes before broiling.
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