Everyone should have a red clam sauce in his or her repertoire. This one is particularly good for smaller clams like little necks, or clams sold as vongole. If you make this a couple of hours ahead of serving, the sauce will take on a nice hint of clam flavor with the other aromatics. Except for the clams and the basil, all of the other ingredients come out of the pantry, making this an excellent recipe for getting on the express line at the store. With a few other things to round out the meal, you’ll still be buying fewer than 10 items.
Game plan: The sauce can be made up to 2 hours before serving, when the clams are added back in.
1Lightly crush the garlic clove and heat with the pure olive oil in a large nonreactive sauté pan with a lid over medium heat. When the garlic starts to sizzle, gently shake and tilt the pan so the clove is immersed and sizzling at one side of the pan in a pool of the oil. As the clove starts to turn golden, lay the pan flat on the burner so the oil covers the entire surface. It is important the clams are dry before adding them to the hot oil to avoid splattering.
2Add the clams and immediately cover the pan. Gently shake the pan from time to time with the cover on and cook until the clams start to open, 5 to 6 minutes. Cooking time will vary, depending on the size of the clams and the thickness of the shells. As they start to open, remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to a baking sheet to cool. Strain the remaining liquid in the pan through a fine-mesh strainer and set aside. You should have about 1/2 cup.
3Wipe out the pan and return to the stove over medium-low heat. Add the extra-virgin olive oil, onion, and sliced garlic. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion is softened and the garlic is just beginning to caramelize, about 4 minutes. Add half the parsley, the hot pepper flakes, the reserved clam juice, tomato purée, and sugar. Stir to produce an even consistency. If necessary, season with salt (this will depend on how salty the clam juice is). Adjust the heat to maintain a slow, even boil. Cook until the sauce begins to thicken and lightens in color, about 10 minutes. Stir from time to time, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon or paddle.
4While the sauce is cooking, remove the clams from the shells. When the sauce is ready, turn off the heat and add the clams with any residual liquid to the pan.
5Cook the spaghettini in a liberal amount of salted water to al dente. While the pasta is cooking, bring the sauce to a gentle simmer. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining the spaghettini.
6A little at a time, add the pasta water to the sauce until it is a touch looser than seems correct. The pasta will absorb the sauce when it is added. Add the basil, then the spaghettini, and gently toss over the heat for a minute or so. If the pasta absorbs too much sauce and the pan looks dry, add a touch of pasta water as you work.
7Transfer to a warm serving platter or individual pasta bowls. Finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and the remaining chopped parsley. Serve subito (immediately) because la pasta fredda non’e buona! Cold pasta is not good!
Wine Recommendation: From Campania, a white Greco di Tufo from Feudi di San Gregorio or a red Aglianico Murellaia from De Lucia