The most common way of cooking clams is to steam them. Take a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid that fits well and bring a few inches of liquid to a rapid simmer – perhaps water, wine, cider or fish stock. Tip the shells into a steamer or colander and expose them to the steam for 2 minutes, shaking from time to time, until the clam shells have all opened.
It's also possible to cook fresh clams by immersing them straight in hot liquid, a jus or sauce. When making spaghetti vongole, the clams are usually added to the sauce for a couple of minutes at the end so that the heat of the sauce and pan cooks the meat and causes the shells to pop open.
Clams don't actually need cooking. They can be eaten in their purest form as sashimi (usually with surf clams) or sucked right out of the shell. Clams can also be pickled, smoked and dried using a home dehydrator.
Clams have a sort of in-built timer which means that the shells ping open when the meat is cooked. If you find yourself clawing at a shell of a cooked clam or struggling to prise it open, then it's an indication that you shouldn't be eating what's inside.
One of the most popular ways of serving clams is with spaghetti or rice in vongole and paella. The shellfish doesn't rely on carbohydrates though – just look to Anna Hansen's cod with clams and chorizo to see how she harnesses flavours of the Mediterranean to work alongside clams.
The juice and flesh inside clam shells enhance fish and seafood flavours already present in a dish so clams are often used to accompany fish fillets as demonstrated by Simon Hulstone's recipe for pan fried sea bass with butter spinach, clams, poached cod cheeks and fish sauce.
For more inspiration, see Nathan Outlaw's John Dory with clams, apple and curry or Shaun Hill's turbot with spiced mussel and clam broth.