Many clam sauces are made from canned clams, which is easier and faster than making sauces from fresh clams. However, using fresh clams gives your clam sauce an authentic seafood flavor that cannot be matched by sauce made from canned clams. Although using fresh clams in your sauce takes longer and is more complicated, the extra work is worth the effort when you taste your fresh sauce. Most recipes utilizing canned clams come out perfectly when you simply substitute fresh clams for canned.
Cover the clams with water, and boil them in a deep skillet over high heat. (Cooking is the primary difference between making clam sauce from fresh clams versus canned clams.) Depending on the recipe, you may add spices or even wine to the water to infuse the clams with flavor as they cook. For a mild flavor, add parsley to the boiling water; for a more intense flavor, add cayenne pepper. Boil the clams until their shells open; once they open, shake them out of their shells. Depending on the size of the clams and personal preference, you may want to chop them.
Prepare the sauce for the clams. Many clam sauces begin with a base of garlic and onions, sauteed in olive oil or butter. Additional ingredients may be taken from a recipe or based on your personal preferences. Tomatoes or peppers are common favorites; saute them in a mixture of wine or water and lemon juice for additional depth of flavor.
Return the clams to the pot for two to three minutes once the sauce is ready--just long enough to warm them and mix their juices with the sauce.
Cook pasta according to package instructions to accompany the clam sauce. For the best contrast with the softness of the clams, cook the pasta until it is al dente, an Italian expression meaning "to the tooth," which describes perfectly done pasta that is firm but not hard. Clam sauce pairs well with most long, thin varieties of pasta, such as angel hair, spaghetti, fettuccini or linguine.
Toss the pasta with the clam sauce and serve.
The type of clams you should use depends on the recipe. Most recipes recommend using littlenecks, quahogs or even a mixture of the two. Adjust the recipe based on your personal preference.