Steamed Clams with Tomatoes and Basil

A clam injury? I know it sounds improbable. They don’t have pincers, like crabs. Or claws, like lobsters. And yet, there I stood, at last year’s Memorial Day picnic, my shucker in one hand and the other raised over my head, bleeding into a makeshift tourniquet made from my hosts’ ornamental kitchen towel, attracting a lot of the wrong kind of attention. The wound healed, but I don’t shuck clams any more. It feels too risky.As the anniversary of my clam encounter drew near, I began to wonder, how was I supposed to cook clams this summer without shucking them? But then, an inner voice reminded me of the generosity of the clam—namely, its willingness to be steamed open.This recipe starts by cooking down some cherry or grape tomatoes in garlic oil in a Dutch oven until they take on a jammy consistency, which intensifies their sweetness. The clams go into the pot with some white wine (use a good one, and drink the rest), where they are slowly coaxed open until their briny, sweet juices run free and mingle with the tomatoes. Finish the dish with a fistful of perfume-y basil, or whatever tender-leafed herb you have on hand. There will be plenty of brothiness to soak up, which I recommend doing with bread that has been grilled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic just as it comes off the heat.I like rolling up my sleeves and serving the clams straight from the pot, which invariably turns the meal into a communal affair of bumping each other’s elbows out of the way to get to the bottom where all the good stuff generally lies.As you’ll clearly need more than the wine you’ve cooked with, I recommend moving on to a light- to-medium-bodied red such as Pelaverga—Castello di Verduno is one of my favorite producers. Pelavergas are reasonably priced, bright, and pair well with just about anything. There are only a handful of producers who grow the varietal—whose DOC is located right outside Barolo—so you can enjoy your glass even more knowing that you’re getting a Barolo-like wine for a fraction of the price.

Steamed Clams with Tomatoes and Basil
Photo: Jen Causey
Active Time:
30 mins
Total Time:
40 mins


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 

  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 

  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper 

  • 1 1/4 pounds heirloom grape tomatoes (about 4 cups)

  • 3/4 cup dry white wine

  • 4 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed and rinsed

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil

  • Lemon wedges

  • 8 (2-ounce) baguette slices, for serving


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot with a lid or a Dutch oven over medium. Add the garlic and red pepper, and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and cook, pressing down on them with a spatula or spoon gently to help them break open, until they start to burst and soften, 5 to 7 minutes.

  2. Stir in the white wine, and add the clams. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the clams pop open, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove clams from pot with tongs, discarding any clams that have not opened. Return liquid to a boil over high. Cook until liquid is reduced and starts to thicken, about 8 minutes. Place clams in a large bowl and pour the tomato sauce over them. Sprinkle with basil and juice from lemon wedges. Serve with bread.

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