Clams with Brussels Sprouts, Bacon + Angel Hair

Though our Midwestern constitutions don’t always feel at home in the South, we fully appreciate just how lucky we are to live on the Atlantic shore where seafood is not only abundant but caught-that-morning fresh. Today’s bowl of goodness features briny sweet NC littlenecks, but takes its inspiration from memories of travelling to two other coastal areas.

First are Roaring Water Bay mussels that we steamed in a heady Sligo County brew with bacon and cabbage. A feast taken watching the moon rise over the inky black waters of Baltimore, County Cork, Ireland. The other, cherrystone clams cooked with garlic, chillies, lemon and a splash of a local white wine. In the postcard village of Lubec, ME, perched at the northeastern tip of the US, it was a meal prepared in the shared kitchen of our inn and enjoyed in our room overlooking the Quoddy Narrows and Canada in the distance.

Here, it’s all about those local clams, with a smoky, textural contrast from our homemade bacon. Brussels sprout leaves wilted down in the drippings are finished simply with a glug of white wine, a sprinkling of fresh parsley, and the zest + juice of lemon to brighten it all up. We tend to follow a ‘simple is better’ mantra when it comes to pasta, letting carefully selected ingredients shine, so only a small portion of angel hair gets tangled in.

What’s in it for me?

One 3-ounce serving of cooked clams (about 12 medium-sized) provides approximately 130 calories, 22 g high-quality complete protein, and less than 2 g total fat with roughly 360 mg of that being heart-healthy omega-3 fats. This serving offers about 30% of your daily vitamin C, phosphorous and copper, in addition to about 40% and 80% that of trace minerals manganese and seleniumClams are also good sources of zinc and potassium, and are very high in iron — roughly 130% of the DV for adult men + 65% for adult women + nearly 45% for pregnant women — and remarkably rich in vitamin B12, providing nearly 1,500% of the adult DV — the highest known food source.

Like other shellfish, clams are natural sources of sodium (roughly 1,000 mg per serving), and are moderately high in cholesterol (57 mg, or about 20% of the DV). Atlantic and Pacific littleneck and cherrystone clams (the varieties suggested for this recipe) are listed as “best choice” options by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, and are also low in contaminants, toxins and heavy metals, like mercury. (For a few tips on purchasing, cleaning and cooking with shellfish, head back to my Have You Met… Mussels post.)

At only about 30 calories and 6 g carbohydrate per 1/2 cup cooked, brussels sprouts provide 2 g each of protein and fiber, 12% of the daily needs for both vitamin A and folate, plus roughly 140% and 80% of your daily vitamins K* and C, respectively. Dark green cruciferous veg like brussels sprouts, as well as collards and cabbage are also excellent sources of antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, and a unique group of phytochemicals called glucosinolates that produce anti-carcinogenic isothiocyanate compounds in the body.

Parsley is a source of dietary nitrates that help improve blood pressure and boost blood flow to muscles during exercise, and is ranked #8 on the CDC powerhouse fruit and veg list. While bacon fat is mostly saturated, the amount per serving in this recipe is less than 1 g, and helps enhance the body’s ability to absorb this impressive nutrient line-up.

This combination of briny clams, garlic and chilli infused sprouts and smoky bacon was phenomenal, but, as always, go wild and make the recipe your own — play around with different veg and spices, trade pasta for crusty bread to sop up all that goodness, or swap the white wine with your favorite beer, hard cider or even regular apple cider once it’s fresh in autumn.

They may seem fussy, but clams are quick and simple to prepare. Whether served with pasta or crusty bread, it’s a meal as perfectly suited for a busy weeknight as it is for a weekend affair with company. Even if (you think) you’re not into clams and shellfish, this dish might just prove otherwise! Enjoy.

Cheers, Heather

Tell me… 

Garlic + White Wine Clams with Brussels Sprouts + Angel Hair Pasta
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
Be careful with the salt -- the bacon + water released from the clams during cooking will naturally season, so hold off initially, taste before serving, and add salt *only* if needed.
Recipe Type: pasta, seafood, shellfish, clams, entree
Makes: 4 entree (or 6 starter) servings
  • 3 lbs fresh small littleneck, cherrystone or a combination, soaked in cold water 20 to 30 minutes then scrubbed (see HGN Notes for a link on cleaning)
  • 1/2 lb (8 oz) regular, whole grain or other favorite type of angel hair pasta, dry
  • 2 slices good-quality bacon (preferably lower-sodium), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes, per your desired level of heat
  • 2 cups Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and very thinly sliced (or thinly shaved on a mandoline)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or unoaked Chardonnay
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley, divided
  1. Put a large pot of water over high heat. When boiling, add a generous pinch of salt and cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain in a colander (do not rinse). Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
  2. In the meantime, cook the bacon over moderate heat in a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet with a lid for 5 to 7 minutes, or until crisp. Transfer the cooked bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, and set aside. Pour off all but about 2 tsp of the rendered fat from the skillet. Return to the pan to moderate heat and stir in the garlic and chilli flakes, cooking until the garlic is fragrant, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts, cover, and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet with a wooden or silicone spoon. Increase the heat and quickly add the clams, then cover and steam, shaking the pan a few times, until the shells open, 5 to 8 minutes. (Discard and do not eat any that do not open.)
  3. Add the cooked pasta, the lemon juice and zest, and about 3/4 of the chopped parsley to the clams. Toss and cook over moderately high heat just until the pasta absorbs some of the juices, about 1 minute. If the pan goes dry, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water. Taste and add pepper and/or salt only as needed.
  4. Divide the pasta and clams evenly between 4 (or 6) shallow bowls, topping each with some of the reserved parsley and crispy bacon. Serve immediately.
HGN Notes
Fresh clams are best eaten day of purchase, but can be refrigerated in a bowl covered with a damp cloth and used within 24 hours. Do NOT store clams in an airtight container or submerge in fresh water -- this will kill them.

If you can't find fresh clams, some markets sell packages of frozen in-shell. These will keep roughly 2 months in a 0°F or colder freezer. When ready to use, thaw frozen clams in a bowl covered with a damp towel in the refrigerator; not at room temperature.

The Kitchn has a quick video to help you learn how best to clean, scrub and sort through your clams before cooking:

+ Try thinly sliced (or grated) cabbage, or ribbons of kale, Swiss chard, beet greens or collards in place of the Brussels sprouts.
+ Fresh basil or chives would be a nice alternative to the parsley, as would a smaller amount (about 2 Tbsp) chopped fresh oregano, mint, rosemary, tarragon, sage or thyme.
+ Replace the bacon with pancetta, OR omit entirely and use 2 tsp olive oil in place of the bacon grease.
+ Instead of white wine use hard cider or a pale beer, such as Kölsch, blonde ale, witbier or Gueuze.
+ Make it alcohol-free by replacing the wine with a low- or no-sodium-added seafood, veg or chicken stock; in autumn, try pure fresh apple cider!
+ If you don't feel like pasta, omit that portion of the recipe and serve the winey clams + veg with hunks of crusty bread for sopping.
Nutrition Info
Serving Size: 1/4 of the recipe (about 3 oz cooked clam meat + 1 cup cooked pasta) Calories: 319 Fat: 4 Saturated fat: 1 Unsaturated fat: 3 Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 48 Sugar: 2 Sodium: 369 Fiber: 4 Protein: 18 Cholesterol: 22

Recipe adapted from HGN Beer-Steamed Mussels with Cabbage, Leeks + Smoky Bacon.

*High intake of vitamin K-containing foods is not recommended if you take blood-thinners, as it can decrease the drug’s effectiveness. Additionally, while there is only a small amount of caraway in this recipe, be aware that caraway may decrease blood sugar, which can be an issue if you take blood sugar-lowering medications for diabetes. If you take any of these medications and have questions or concerns about drug-nutrient interactions, please consult your physician or a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

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Check out my downloadable nutrition guides.

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