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Canned clams and olives give humble pantry pasta a briny punch

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
Pasta With Marinara, Olives and Clams
Total time:25 mins
Servings:6 to 8
Total time:25 mins
Servings:6 to 8

Pasta and a jar of store-bought sauce is a classic in the world of pantry cooking. It’s a quick, pretty effortless and filling meal. While the adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” might be running through the minds of those that turn to this dish for dinner salvation frequently, with just a few more ingredients — canned clams, olives and some spices — you can transform it from merely satisfactory to assuredly pleasing.

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First we need to talk about canned clams. Preserved and tinned seafood has surged in popularity in recent years. While much of the hype is focused on fancy conservas, more common canned seafood can be pantry all-stars.

“Conventional wisdom says that fresher is better, but when it comes to umami-packed brine and easy volume, canned clams have the edge,” Anna Hezel wrote for Taste. That’s because all of the prep work has been done, so you can just grab a can opener and have affordable seafood at the ready. “These grocery store cans, which you can get for around $3, are massively flavorful, taste perfectly salty, and come with plenty of brine to double down on the clam flavor in whatever you’re making,” Hezel wrote.

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In this recipe, that clam flavor is added to your favorite jar of tomato sauce for convenience sake, but you could instead make a blender marinara from scratch. Clams and fennel are a good pairing — the seeds add flavor and texture to the pasta sauce, and crushed red pepper flakes lend some heat. Lastly, chopped kalamata olives add a third layer of briny flavor and have a meaty texture to complement the clams.

This recipe is great for a group, or, if you’re like me, as leftovers to eat for a few days to cut down on cooking all the time. Either way, it shows how a few carefully curated, shelf-stable ingredients can break you out of a pantry pasta rut.

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Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

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  • Fine sea salt or table salt
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • One (24-ounce) jar marinara sauce
  • Two (6.5-ounce) cans minced clams in juice, drained and juice reserved
  • 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives (about 12 olives)

Step 1

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions until just shy of al dente, then drain.

Step 2

Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the fennel seeds and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring regularly, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in the marinara sauce, clam juice and olives, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes.

Step 3

Add the drained pasta and clams to the skillet and toss until the pasta is coated and the clams are warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste, and season with salt and/or more red pepper flakes, if desired. Transfer the pasta to a serving platter or individual bowls and serve.

Nutrition Information

Per serving (1 cup), based on 8

Calories: 323; Total Fat: 9 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 3 mg; Sodium: 546 mg; Carbohydrates: 54 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Sugar: 10 g; Protein: 9 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Recipe from staff writer Aaron Hutcherson.

Tested by Aaron Hutcherson; email questions to

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