Iron-rich clam linguine – a.k.a. “what I cook when I’m lazy.”

So, after having a brief conversation about iron-rich foods on Twitter (as you do), and sharing the amazing revelation that canned clams are richer in iron, ounce per ounce, than the reigning King of Iron Richness — beef liver — I agreed to post my favourite recipe involving canned clams.

We eat this roughly once a week. It’s cheap, it’s easy and fast, and it tastes really good (in my humble opinion.) It’s a classic “shelf supper,” meaning all the ingredients can sit on the shelf for a while, so that you can keep it on hand for when things get a little too busy.

I originally got it from a lovely and wonderful Canadian cookbook called Pantry Raid. Which is entirely about shelf suppers (and desserts.) Which is, I’m sure you’ll agree, totally genius.

The original recipe says it serves four, but it also makes a nice all-in-one dinner for two hungry adults.

Here goes:

12 oz (375 g) dry linguine
1 can (19 oz, 540 mL) of Italian-style stewed tomatoes
1 can (14 oz, 398 mL) of baby clams
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp. each of salt and pepper
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil (optional – or you can use a tsp. or so of dried basil, but the fresh basil tastes waaaay better)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Boil water for pasta. Meanwhile, bring tomatoes to a boil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir for 3-5 minutes, breaking the tomatoes up a little with your spoon.

Cook the pasta until al dente (usually right around 9 minutes for us.) While it cooks, drain the clams and stir into the tomatoes. Add the balsamic vinegar to the sauce, and let the sauce return to a boil. Then add the basil, salt and pepper.

When the pasta is done, drain and mix together with the sauce, cover with parmesan cheese and EAT.

According to the USDA nutrient database, the clams in this recipe alone should give you well over the RDA of iron. (And writing sentences like that is, without a doubt, the most boring part of my job.)

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27 Comments

  1. Posted February 3, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    I do similar, but without tomatoes. I use a chopped onion and sometimes mushrooms.

    • Posted February 3, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      I love onions and mushrooms. When I’m feeling especially feisty, I add some frozen shrimp and scallops to this as well.

      Basically — I’ll eat anything that was dredged out of the ocean, is what I’m saying. The slimier and weirder-looking, the better.

      • Laura, your cousin.
        Posted February 3, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        Scallops? Yum!

      • littlem
        Posted February 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        Heh. Are you me?

        Also, thank you for this recipe. Those of us who are, for whatever reason, not as Twitter-literate would not have known about the clamtastic iron content.

  2. Posted February 3, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m anemic and am always looking for more ways to get iron into my body… I had no idea abo0ut clams. Genius!

  3. Posted February 3, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Sounds delicious! I hate, hate, hate that I’m allergic to clams :/

  4. hsofia
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    I’m a bit anemic, so this is a good tip. Thanks. And I can’t bring myself to eat fish right now, but clams .. I can do clams.

    • Posted February 3, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

      Other options (not quite as iron-licious, but still decent) include flour tortillas and many kinds of legumes.

  5. Daniel M.
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Hmm amateur speaking here , but would not the spleen be a better source of iron than liver? I mean it recycles blood cells…

    (Boiled [with all the other stuff in the large outdoor cauldron] fresh pig spleen with salt , onion and bread is awesome food , and pretty much the first thing one eats when killing a pig, at least in my country)

    • Daniel M.
      Posted February 3, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      I checked it and at least for beef it does
      http://www.jbc.org/content/67/2/517.full.pdf

      the table they have shows that spleen ha about twice the content of iron of liver, kidneys about 3 times, and blood contains, unsurprisingly most of all

    • Posted February 3, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      Do you have a good recipe for spleen? Cause if so, please share :)

      Anyway, here is what the USDA has to say:

      100 g of cooked pork spleen has 22.23 g of iron

      100 g of cooked beef liver has 6.54 g of iron

      100 g of canned clams has 27.96 g of iron

      So, YES. Spleen wins out over liver. But clams still win.

      I have to say, though, just like I did at the end of the recipe? This kind of thing bores me to tears. I’d rather read the dictionary than look things up in a nutrient database.

      • Daniel M.
        Posted February 3, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

        Hmm, so i was right!
        pretty much the only recipe for spleen i know is that one, although i think chopping it with liver and frying on onion garlic black pepper etc would work as well
        The thing is normally it is eaten straight in this way or goes into liver/rice sausages

        For blood though, besides blood sausages and beggar’s meal (that is the word for word translation, meal meaning the kind of food like oat meal or acorn meal) it is usually put on sandwich bread, salt , pepper, some fried onion and garlic and then baked. (the part that is not used else)
        Awesome stuff again

  6. Ashley
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    I have never, in my whole life, seen or purchased a can of clams. I totally eat clams and mussels though, so I would probably make this if i could find the clams. Where are they in the store? Like near the canned tuna? I buy that all the time, so how have I never noticed the clams?

    • Posted February 4, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Well, in Canada at least, they are near the tuna. I think I found some in the US when I was there over the holidays, but yeah, none of my family members ever bought them either. And they are goooood, if you like shellfish. We also make clam chowder with them, but that’s a proprietary family secret on my husband’s side. Maybe he’ll agree to post the recipe someday if I get him drunk enough.

  7. Posted February 4, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Clams are one of those things I wish I could like. Along with oysters, mussels, all of those zinc and iron containing seafood filtery things. I like fried clams, and I don’t mind them so much raw (ceviche), though if I wasn’t on the Costa Rican coast with that as my only choice, I still probably wouldn’t have done it.

    I’m quite sure I’ve seen them in jars, not sure on cans. Then again, I dislike tuna, except raw, so I wouldn’t be over in that section.

    • Posted February 4, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      “seafood filtery things” – I love that. That’s what I’m calling them from now on.

  8. Anita
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I’m always sort of boggled by the iron guidelines. As someone who loves fruit and only feels the urge for meat occasionally, I wonder if I’m getting enough iron. (My blood always sinks when they do the anemia test, so the short answer is: yes.)

    One of the interesting things I’ve noticed since eating more intuitively is that there will be times when I crave meat (or more often, sushi and spinach). I usually like sushi and spinach, but in these times, I will contemplate even liver, which under normal circumstances sort of squicks me. If I ignore this sudden urge, I will get stronger cravings, to the point where I start obsessing over foods I normally hate (hello, kale!). One slab of beef, or a couple meals of sushi, or a load of collard greens later, I’m pretty much back to ignoring the red meat and green leafy vegetables.

    It’s kind of reassuring, actually, that without my watching it, my body will tell me very clearly what it needs. I don’t know if this works across the board – maybe I’m missing vitamin K or something, but iron is the one I’ve noticed really strongly, and it makes me feel more confident that if I was too deficient in something, one of my random cravings would cover it. (And I do mean random – now that I’ve stopped dieting, it’s interesting to note that cravings are not restricted to energy dense items. I *don’t* just love fried sweet things!)

    Question, if you have time: does iron stick around longer than some other nutrients? I only get iron food cravings every 2-6 weeks, but I can only go a day or two without fresh fruit before feeling myself going crazy. I’m sure not all cravings are about need – I just really like fruit – but it would be interesting to know what’s going on.

    • Posted February 4, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Yeah, cravings don’t always line up exactly with what your body actually needs. Some people think cravings are a mechanism that encourages people to seek more variety in general, and this idea makes sense to me. For example, sometimes when people have iron deficiency, they crave stuff like ice, which doesn’t actually help address the deficiency. But it’s also possible that low iron stores will activate a craving for meat or other iron-containing foods — it’s probably an individual thing that varies a lot from person to person. And also, people’s actual nutrient requirements vary a lot — some people will need more iron than others. The RDA is a number that is set based on the entire population’s average iron requirement (and then bumped up past average to try to cover 97.5% of the population’s needs — still, some people are going to need more than that, and plenty of people will need less than the RDA.)

      Anyhow, iron is stored in the liver, bone marrow, and spleen, and when your red blood cells die, the iron contained in them (in the hemoglobin inside the cells) is recycled. So it isn’t something that your body just excretes and gets rid of and needs replacing every day. You do have stores, so it’s possible that you can eat iron-rich foods only occasionally and still be fine. If you’re low on iron, your body also kicks up its ability to absorb what you DO get in your diet to help compensate for that.

      tl;dr – Your body is smart.

      • Anita
        Posted February 4, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        Oh, that’s an interesting idea. More variety . . . hmm.

        It would be interesting to know how that works, exactly. I mean, some part of the brain has to settle on The Food to crave. What flips the switch from “don’t ever think about bacon” to “BACON!”? Especially if the body has no reason to believe that bacon is necessary in itself at that moment?

        I’ve generally assumed that some of the foods I crave are to fix something, and most of them are just sort of weird, unpredictable anomalies, perhaps from the same place that brings us dreams and abstract art. Maybe I should increase the variety of food I eat.

      • Anita
        Posted February 4, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Also, this recipe is totally on my list, but I’ll wait until there’s real fresh basil. Dried basil is a sad, sad substitute. In the meantime, pasta puttanesca is my “nothing in the fridge” version of good food.

        • Posted February 4, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          Dried basil is a sad substitute, I agree. I sometimes freeze my basil when I have extra, but it’s still not as good as fresh.

  9. Posted February 4, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    That looks tasty. I might have to give that a shot this week, using WW pasta of course. :)

    I never pay attention to the USDA, RDA, BMI, etc. recommendations.

  10. Posted February 4, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    My goodness, I had no idea they were so rich in iron! This was my old-world Italian grandfather’s go-to dish for feeding us on a night when nothing else was in the fridge. To this day I can’t order linguine with clam sauce in a restaurant because it’s just not as good.

    I’ve never had a variation with tomatoes or basil in it, though–sounds interesting.

    (long time reader, first time commenter—hi!)

  11. Posted February 19, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Alright, you’ve convinced me. I bought a can of baby clams.

    (And yes, they are in the tuna section in my grocery store in the states.)

  12. Posted February 20, 2010 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    What a cool website! i just made a similar recipe today and judging by the result (it was inhaled in no time) I would say it was excellent! I need iron bad too and was thrilled to check the can and see 90% iron on the label! (per serving!)

  13. Marya
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    What, no garlic?

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