Clam risotto with lemon (Vongole risotto al limone)

I was on the hunt for some interesting seafood at a Korean market here in Los Angeles and came across GIANT clams. They reminded me of the Cherry Stone clams that my mother would make me, with tomato sauce, for lunch when I walked home from school for lunch (yes, we did eat well as kids).

So I bought myself ten of these babies (about 3 pounds – that’s how big they are) and went home to figure out what to do with them. In a desire not to just steam them open and serve with butter, I remembered a recipe in the Pacific Northwest’s Ethan Stowell’s New Italian Kitchen cookbook that I had wanted to try. This recipe is my adaptation, using these really big clams. This would work just great with smaller Manilla clams, too.

Make 4 servings.

Ingredients and Directions:

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 to 4 pounds of clams
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 lemon (not a Meyer lemon)
  • High quality extra-virgin olive oil (for finishing)

Special equipment:

  • A large dutch oven
  • Sauce pot for the clam stock
  • Lemon grater
  1. Place the clams in the large dutch oven, cover them with cold water, and cover. Let the clams sit for about 2 hours to allow the clams to expel their sand.
  2. Drain the clams and hand rub them to remove any major debris remaining on the exterior. Rinse the clams and set them aside.
  3. Place the dutch oven over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil. Heat the oil and then add 3 cloves of sliced garlic. Saute for just a minute or two until soft (lower the heat if the garlic begins to brown). Add the clams and wine and cover with the lid. Steam until the clams open, about 2 to 3 minutes. Discard any clams that don’t open.
  4. Remove the clams from the broth and place in a heat-proof container and place in the refrigerator to quickly cool down. Strain the broth through a cheesecloth or paper towel into a sauce pot. Add enough water to make about 4 to 6 cups total. Place over heat and warm the clam broth to a simmer.
  5. Using the dutch oven again, place over medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the remaining garlic and onion and saute for 2 to 3 minutes until soft.
  6. Add the rice to the hot pan and stir gently to coat the rice. Cook until the rice begins to lose its opaque color, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  7. Add the simmering clam broth, a ladle at a time, each time stiring slowly and near constantly until the broth is absorbed and the rice becomes stiff (about 5 to 6 minutes). Continue to add the broth in this pattern until the rice is creamy but still al dente (having a little bite to the rice grains).
  8. While cooking the rice, remove the clams from the refrigerator. Set aside and reserve clams for garnish (2 large clams or 6 to 8 small clams per plate). Remove the remaining clams from the shells and if large, coarsely chop.
  9. When the rice is done, stir in the butter and chopped clams and stir to combine.
  10. Serve one large ladle into each serving bowl. Grate some lemon over the risotto and garnish by placing the remaining clams artfully on the risotto.

Note: DO NOT serve cheese with this dish. People from Italy will hunt you down!

Join the Conversation

  1. Where do you guys buy your clams and mussels in LA? I’ve typically been buying mussels (very fresh) at Costco when they carry them on the weekends (but you need to buy them on Friday – as they vacuum wrap the bags, which ends up suffocating mussels).

    1. Hi there. I usually get them at Whole Foods. They almost always have them and the usually check them carefully to make sure they are still alive. The other place that has Manila Clams is 99 Ranch. They are in the SGV and OC but they are REALLY fresh there. They are spitting water at you to avoid being picked up. You’ll have to navigate the Chinese-speaking only deal. Good luck. Joe

  2. This looks heavenly! I tried clam risotto at some famous authentic Sicilian restaurant here in Beirut, and got fond of it ever since. i’ll try to make it your way though 🙂
    Thank you for sharing the recipe!


    1. Thanks for the comment, Cloudoflace! Grazie!

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