This recipe is traditionally made with linguini, but any pasta will do. I use Western littleneck clams for this dish because that's what I have around me. I've also used Manila clams and Eastern littlenecks. Any small, hard-shelled clam works here.
Make sure the clams are clean; scrub them with a stiff brush under cold water if you need to. Lay them in a large, wide pot no more than 2 clams deep. Pour over 3/4 cup of white wine. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and steam open the clams. Pay attention and pluck out each clam as it opens -- this prevents them from being overcooked. Remove the clams from their shells and cut large ones into 2 to 3 pieces. Put them in a bowl with a tablespoon of the olive oil and toss to coat. Set aside for now.
Discard the shells. Strain the liquid in the pan by pouring over a fine-meshed strainer with a paper towel set inside it that has been set over a bowl. Reserve the strained liquid.
Wipe out the pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Turn the heat to medium-high and sauté the garlic for about 1 minute; don't let it brown. Add the red pepper flakes and the remaining white wine. Boil this for 1 minute, then add the reserved clam juice. Turn off the heat.
Boil the pasta in a large pot of salty water. When it is almost done -- very al dente, as in just barely crunchy in the center -- move the pasta to the pan and turn the heat to high. When it begins to boil, toss the pasta with the sauce constantly so the pasta is evenly coated. Add the reserved clams and the tomatoes while you are doing this. The pasta should be fully cooked in 30 seconds to 1 minute. When it's perfect, turn off the heat, drizzle over the remaining olive oil, and mix in the basil. Serve at once.
Keys to Success
Use the same white wine you are going to drink with dinner, like a pinot grigio, Sancerre, Albariño or Verdelho.
If you only have large clams, you can finely chop them first. This will limit their chewiness and they'll still be nice. You can grind them, too.
If you have some really good olive oil, use that for the final drizzle at the end.
You can mince parsley, maybe 3 tablespoons, and add that to the pan when you add the cooked pasta. This is what I do in winter.
I've done this exact recipe with little oysters, smoked mussels, crabmeat, small shrimp and crawfish tails. All are good.