Take care when cooking the garlic in this recipe â€” you are aiming for a light golden colour, as burnt garlic will taste bitter. This dish depends on good timing, the pasta partially cooks while you are sauteing the clams, then the drained pasta is added to the clams to finish cooking.
1.2 kg (2 lb 10 oz) live clams (vongole) (small ones are preferable)
1 fennel bulb
80 ml (2 1/2 fl oz/ 1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
170 ml (5 1/2 fl oz/ 2/3 cup) dry white wine
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
400 g (14 oz) dried angel hair pasta
1/4 cup flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, chopped
1. When buying clams from the fishmonger, ask if they have been purged (stored in aerated salt water to eliminate sand). If not, place the clams in a bowl and wash them under cold running water, then add 60 g (2 1/4 oz) sea salt to 2 litres (70 fl oz/8 cups) water and stand for several hours in a cool place. This re-creates their natural environment and they will breathe and filter the water, releasing any sand from within their shells.
2. Remove the fennel fronds and finely chop to obtain 2 tablespoons. Set aside. Using a mandolin, finely shave the fennel bulb.
3. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a rapid boil.
4. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a separate large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid over low-medium heat, add the shaved fennel and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic, fennel seeds and chilli flakes. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until the garlic starts to colour. Add the wine and lemon zest, increase the heat to high and bring to the boil.
5. Add the clams and cover. Allow the clams to steam for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until all the shells are open. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly discard any clams that haven't opened.
6. Meanwhile, cook the pasta for 1 minute less than the recommended time on the packet. Drain, add to the clams and toss to combine for 1 minute to allow the pasta to absorb most of the liquid and finish cooking.
7. Add the parsley and lemon juice. Taste for seasoning, adding sea salt if desired. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil, toss and serve sprinkled with fennel fronds.