A family tradition

Pasta with clam sauce, passed down from grandma to mom to granddaughter.


I have learned all I know about food from my mom, and have been cooking with her for as long as I can remember. It has always been one of my favorite things to do, but it became a highlight of my day during the months I spent at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We would decide on the dinners we wanted to cook, and spend time in the kitchen together, stirring and chopping away. 

Although my mom has a natural talent for cooking, she learned what she passed down to me from her mom. My grandma had an incredible talent for creating her own recipes, a talent that my mom has inherited. I remember and cherish the memories of cooking with my grandma and my mom before my grandma passed, and the dish that I have cooked so many times since is their pasta with clam sauce.

This recipe is an easy, simplified version of pasta with clam sauce, and as a college student, I greatly appreciate the simplicity of it. The simplification comes down to something that may not be perceived well on the Island — canned clams. My grandma lived on the 20th floor of a New York City highrise, and canned clams were easier to buy. Maybe the continued use of canned clams was due to this fact, or how delicious her first dish may have turned out, but in any event, I apologize for this somewhat embarrassing simplification. 

Although this recipe uses canned clams as a base (on Martha’s Vineyard of all places … I know, I know), it could certainly be enhanced with fresh clams from Vineyard shores.

I can only imagine how tasty this dish would be with some fresh Vineyard clams … I am sure my grandma would be very open to the improvement!

Cooking with my mom has always been one of the best parts of my day. But recreating recipes with my mom that were passed down to her from her mom make it that much more special. 

It is wonderful to be able to honor your grandparents after they have passed. My grandma is remembered through the smiles, stories, and recipes she brought to the kitchen — with her warm spirit and heart, living on through a piping hot plate of pasta with clam sauce.

Pasta with Clam Sauce

1 box spaghetti
1 onion, diced
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cans of minced clams
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. cornstarch mixed in ⅓ cup cold water, to thicken sauce

First boil some water with a pinch of salt in a large pot and throw some pasta in once it boils. While the water comes to a boil, you should dice up the onion and put those in a saucepan with the butter and enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Stir occasionally. When the onions become translucent and soft, add in the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Then toss in both cans of clams with the liquid included (make sure to scrape the sides!). Add in the chicken bouillon cube and let it dissolve in the clam juice. Next, add in the basil, oregano, and pepper to taste (the more the better, in my opinion). Finally add in the cold water and cornstarch mixture. Stir until thickened and gently boiling. Once boiling, turn the heat to simmer and cover. Let the sauce continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until your pasta is ready to drain. Spoon a big, heaping portion of the sauce over your pasta, and enjoy!