Frank Sinatra loved the Clams…

…at Patsy’s Restaurant in Manhattan. Sal Scognamillo the chef-owner of Paty’s says it wasn’t unusual for Frank to kick off his evening at Patsy’s with a couple of servings of Clams Posillipo. After making a batch of Sal’s fabulous “calms in red sauce” Sunday evening I can certainly understand why!

As I mentioned in my piece worshiping Patsy’s Mussels Arreganata, I can’t walk past a pasta vongole recipe without giving it a try and have been chasing a “red sauce” version for years.

Well, the search is over and done … this is it. Patsy’s Posillipo is a simple dish of clams, tomatoes, a little garlic, onions and herbs that becomes a dish with surprising depth and perfect clammy goodness.

I love the little ribbed rooster headed pasta and as you can see from my (bad) photo, I added some to the clams with the intent of make the dish more of an entrée. Though they take to sauce well and tasted great, the little rooster heads find their way into the clam shells … obscuring the view of those luscious littlenecks and that’s just wrong.

Whether as a main or an appetizer, Paty’s Clams Posillipo needs nothing more than some crusty bread to achieve it’s Sinatra pleasing greatness — well, and some nice wine of course!

Other than the pasta addition…

… I made just a couple of minor tweaks to Sal’s cookbook recipe. Frank apparently loved the taste of garlic but wasn’t wild about seeing it in the dish. To accommodate Mr. S the Patsy’s cooks would sauté off garlic cloves in the oil to perfume it with the taste of garlic and then discard the cloves. In essence making a garlic oil.

Since Frank wasn’t making it to the house Sunday for dinner (he has a standing invite but usually calls ahead if he plans to drop in), I decided to chop the garlic and leave it in the dish. It probably made the Posillipo a bit more “garlic forward” than Frank preferred but was perfect for me and my lovely bride.

That said, to taste historically accurate “Frank’s Clams Posillipo”, I think next time I make this recipe (check it out below)  I will make it by the book and perfume the oil … the depth and elegance of this simple recipe are such that subtle changes may be significant and I want to see the difference.

Likewise, next time…

…I will leave out the pinch of red pepper flakes I added. Again, the taste was perfectly balanced with a little edge to the sauce but no discernible heat. Perfect for MY sensibilities but not the way Frank played his clams, so next time … by the book.

Speaking of “next times” … the salad we made to front Frank’s Clams is worth mentioning. No recipe needed, just brown off a nice 3/4 inch slice of bread in the oven and top it with light drizzle of olive oil; mound some heirloom tomatoes (salt and pepper as you build), feta … another light hand with the oil and your herb of choice.

It’s almost a deconstructed pazanella salad. All those tomato juices and oil find their way down into the warm crunchy bread … man, what a great summer starter. I went with oregano on this version and it was a bit too forward for me (my wife loved the oregano) … next time I would either cut it by half or go with basil.

Back to the Frank’s Clams…

Patsy’s Cookbook: Classic Italian Recipes from a New York City Landmark Restaurant is an excellent collection of Southern Italian recipes AND a great read — chock full of anecdotes from the Rat Pack era. Anyone that drops in to DiningwithTheRatPack is probably a fan of both and I encourage you to take a look and snare a copy of Sal’s wonderful book.

And when clams come back into season in a month or so, DEFINITELY plan to make “Frank’s Clams Posillipo”…


Frank's Clams Posillipo (Patsy's Restaurant)
Don't pay attention to my bad photos ... this is a great dish -- the best I've found in my life-long quest for great "clams in red sauce" ... so good, it makes me want to stop looking!
Serves: 4
  • 32 littleneck clams*
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, halved**
  • ¼ cup onion, chopped
  • 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes with juice
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste***
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste****
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
  1. Scrub the clams with a stiff brush, rinse throughly in cold water and place in a large pot. Add cold water to just cover (or slightly less) and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the clams open, about 5 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon remove the clams to a large bowl as they open and discard any that do not open.
  2. Strain the cooking liquid though a chinois/strainer lined with a coffee filter. Reserve ¾ cup of the strained cooking liquid (now wonderful clam broth).
  3. [I purge my clams to remove sand/grit and consequently did not perform the upcoming rinsing maneuver. If you do not purge then definitely do the following step.] Return the clams to the pot, add cold water and stir to remove any remaining sand. Drain and reserve clams.
  4. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium flame and sauté the garlic halves until golden, about 2 minutes. Remove garlic with tongs and discard. Add the onions to the garlic oil and sauté 3 to 4 minutes, until soft but do not brown. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them and their juice to the saucepan. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the tomato paste if using (not optional in my opinion) and add the basil and 1 tablespoon of parsley. Simmer UNCOVERED 5 minutes.
  6. Add the reserved clam broth and clams to the sauce and bring to boil. Cover the saucepan, reduce heat and simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until the clams are heated through. Spoon the clams and sauce into serving bowls, garnish with remaining parsley and serve immediately with hot crusty bread.
* you can go with cockles if you want but they won't throw off as much liquor and will be easy to overcook ... littlenecks are best. ** I chopped 3 cloves and left them in the dish. Tasted great but not "Frank's way" *** I added a pinch of red pepper flakes about a minute after the onions -- not Sinatra style but tasted great -- try it both ways! **** Patsy's calls this out as optional but I can't see why ... adds a ton of flavor and body to the sauce