This classic Italian dish will always remind me of my grandparents, and especially of my grandfather, Pop-pop Genovese. It was one of his all-time favorites, and I love how he always called it “Bysta with the clams.” My grandparents have several versions of “bysta with the (fill in the blank).” There’s bysta sugo, bysta with the garlic, bysta with the broccoli, etc. Always called bysta (our family’s Sicilian slang for pasta) and always “with the.”
During my first few years of college at Salisbury University (before I transferred to LSU), I often took the ferry over from Lewis Delaware to Cape May to visit my grandparents on the weekends. They would always treat me to a big dinner and then send me home with lots of leftovers – a college student’s dream. They’d also let me go “grocery shopping” in their garage, where they stored bulk items like toilet paper and canned tomatoes. One time, Pop-pop asked if I’d like to take home a can of chopped clams, but I thought that was weird, so I graciously declined his offer.
But Pop-pop wasn’t taking no for an answer that day, and he looked at me like I’d just declined an offer for a free pair of diamond earrings. He insisted I take the can, and then excitedly walked me through how to make bysta with the clams. I’ll never forget him telling me to “use lots of gahlic” in his thick New England accent. I took the can of clams back to my apartment and proceeded to stare at it all semester, until one day I decided to finally crack it open and give bysta with the clams a whirl. It was surprisingly easy to make and tasted salty, garlicky and reminded me of home. I haven’t stopped making it ever since.
Even though my grandfather worked as a fisherman and had easy access to all the fresh clams he wanted, he always made this dish with the canned variety. I’m not sure why, and unfortunately he’s no longer around for me to ask, but I’m willing to bet it’s because canned clams are easier, faster and taste just as good without all the fuss (or the occasional mouthful of sand). I’ve come to love this dish made with canned clams and to be honest, I tend to use them in lieu of fresh clams more often than not.
It’s a great pantry meal considering the only fresh ingredients needed are lemon, garlic, butter, and parsley, which I almost always have on hand. If I happen to have a few extra fresh clams laying around – which happens more than you’d think, oddly enough – I’ll totally throw them in too. They give an extra boost of flavor, a slightly different texture, and look especially nice on the plate.
Traditionalists will insist this recipe be made using only olive oil (Pop-pop included), but I find it really benefits from a healthy dose of good quality butter. It adds silkiness and flavor without competing with the delicate nature of the clams, which olive oil has the tendency to do. It also alleviates the need for using cheese, which any good Italian would vehemently oppose (except for my grandfather, ironically, who put grated cheese on everything). Finlandia butter is rich, creamy, and a big part of what makes this particular recipe so irresistibly delicious.
Thank you to Finlandia Butter and Cheese for sponsoring this post. All opinions are my own.
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- salt for seasoning pasta water and for the sauce, to taste
- 5 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- pinch of red chili flakes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 20 littleneck clams, purged and scrubbed clean
- 1 6.5 ounce can chopped clams
- 1 cup bottled clam juice
- 1/2 lb linguini
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 8 tablespoons unsalted Finlandia butter, cold, cut into cubes
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, divided
- Bring a large pot of water up to a boil and season generously with salt. In a medium saucepan, sauté the garlic and chili flakes in olive oil for about 2 minutes. Add the wine, then the clams, cover and cook until they just start to open, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the clams to a bowl, then cover and set aside somewhere to keep warm.
- Drain the liquid from the canned clams and add that to the pan with the bottled clam juice. Simmer and allow the liquid to reduce by half, about 5 minutes. While the sauce is reducing, drop the linguini into the boiling water, stir, and cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. When the pasta is 2-3 minutes away from being done, reduce the heat of the pan to low, then add the canned clams and lemon juice. Add the butter while stirring, a few pieces at a time, until fully incorporated. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt only if needed*, then stir in half of the chopped parsley.
- Drain the pasta and add it to the pot, then toss around for a few minutes to allow it to absorb all the flavors. Transfer to serving bowls and arrange the reserved clams around the outside. Sprinkle with the remaining chopped parsley and serve immediately.
- *Clams, clam juice, and salty pasta water will add a significant amount of salt to the recipe, so you may not need to add any additional seasoning. Taste before serving and adjust as needed.
- If fresh clams are not available, this recipe can easily be prepared using only canned clams with no adjustments needed.