Two years ago we visited the city of Mantova in northern Italy and loved the Bigoli alle Vongole we had at Trattoria Cento Rampini. I was used to making pasta alle vongole with dried linguine or spaghetti, but really liked it made with bigoli. Bigoli are thick hollow spaghetti, made by extrusion. I am not sure if Cento Rampini used fresh or dried bigoli and whether theirs included eggs or not. During the same trip to Italy I picked up my own pasta extruder, so I’ve made bigoli alle vongole and other dishes with extruded pasta since. I like to add candied cherry tomatoes to this dish to freshen it up, but you could leave them out for a more traditional ‘alle vongole’.
For 2 servings
1 kg (2.2 lbs) vongole or other small clams
2 eggs and 200 grams (7 oz) semolina flour (or use dried bigoli or bucatini)
250 grams (1/2 pound) cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic
extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp chopped flatleaf parsley
freshly ground black pepper
optional: 1 glass of dry white wine
Put about one liter (1 quart) of cold water into a bowl and add enough salt to make it as salt as the sea (3% by weight). If you have any actual seawater on hand, that would be even better Put in the clams and let them do their thing for about an hour. If you bought fresh clams, they are still alive and they will clean themselves as you will see. This removes some sand and other stuff you’d rather not eat from the clams. Rinse them thoroughly with cold water afterwards to remove the salt and any dirt from the outside of the shells.
To make your own bigoli, start by making pasta dough from the flour and the eggs. I used semolina flour rather than 00 to get a stronger dough. The dough should be pliable, but drier than the dough you’d use to roll out pasta for tagliatelle or ravioli, otherwise the bigoli will stick together when they come out of the extruder.
Fit the extruder with the appropriate attachment for bigoli. Insert the dough and ask your charming assistant (in this case my husband Kees) to turn the handle of the extruder while you push down on the pasta dough. They should not stick together if the dough was dry enough. Otherwise, sprinkle them with flour as soon as they come out of the extruder to prevent sticking.
Cut the bigoli to the desired length, about the same as spaghetti. There is no need to let them dry.
Put the cherry tomatoes in an oven proof dish. Add some olive oil and toss to coat them evenly with oil. Roast in the oven at 175C/350F for about 20 minutes.
Put a glass of dry white wine (or a glass of water) in a pan and add the vongole. Cover and heat over high heat until the shells open. Take off the heat as soon as the shells are open: don’t cook the vongole longer than necessary because that would make them tough and would diminish the flavor.
Drain the vongole and catch the ‘juice’. Filter that juice using a cheese cloth or paper towel. Take about half the vongole out of their shells. (You could also leave all of them in or take all of them out. I like leaving about half in the shell because it looks nice.)
Cook the fresh bigoli al dente in boiling unsalted water for around 8 minutes (or dry bigoli or bucatini according to package instructions).
Meanwhile, heat 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and add the minced garlic. Add the reserved vongole ‘juice’ before the garlic starts to color. Reduce over medium heat until you have about half of the original volume of the juice. Return the vongole to the juice for the last few minutes to reheat them.
Drain the pasta as soon as it is done. Add to the vongole together with the cherry tomatoes and parsley and toss to mix over high heat. Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve at once on preheated plates.
Please note that the vongole juice is already quite salty, that’s why you should not cook the pasta in salted water.
A classic wine pairing with pasta alle vongole is with Greco di Tufo or Fiano di Avellino, hefty dry whites from Campania. If you don’t mind mixing Italian food with French wine, it is also great with a full-bodied white Burgundy with a lot of minerality such as Puligny-Montrachet. We had it with a 2007 Puligny-Montrachet from Olivier Leflaive. Still a bit young, but a good match with this dish.