Spring Little Necks

Spring is a great time to go down to the docks and pick up a couple of dozen clams. The smaller littleneck clams work very well in pasta dishes where they are tossed in and served whole, being steamed in the sauce. This method also works well with mussels. I find the smaller clams to be the sweeter ones

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 dozen littleneck clams
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
  • 1 (28- to 32-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, coarsely chopped, reserving juice
  • 1 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 pound spaghetti

Heat oil in a 12- to 14-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, then cook garlic with red-pepper flakes, stirring, until pale golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and briskly simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 7 to 10 minutes.

Cook spaghetti in a pasta pot of boiling salted water until al dente.

Meanwhile, add whole clams to sauce and cook, covered, shaking skillet occasionally, until clams open wide, 6 to 10 minutes (discard any clams that remain unopened after 10 minutes). Transfer clams in shells to a large shallow bowl. If sauce is too watery, boil until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.

Drain spaghetti. Return clams to sauce and add pasta, tossing

Spaghetti with Red Clam Sauce

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Clams Au Gratin

This is a noodle casserole with fresh clams and clam juice. It’s a yummy, cheesy, seaside comfort food for chilly winter days. This dish bakes up nicely in a warm oven that helps take the chill out of the air.

 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • One pint of clam meat
  • 1 ¼ cups of clam juice and milk
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup of butter (bless you Paula Dean)
  • 1 cup of elbow macaroni cooked
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs
  • 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese (use the good stuff or you’ll get tat day-glow faux cheese nastiness)
  • 1 tsp seal salt
  • Dash of pepper

 

Shuck the clams and save the juice. Chop up the clam meat, scald the juice and milk or cream if you prefer.

Add the butter and melt that into the liquid. Take it off the heat and add in the macaroni, bead crumbs, grated cheese, salt, pepper, clams, mix well. Then, blend in the two eggs. Transfer this mixture to a well greased casserole dish.

Bake the casserole in an oven at 350 degrees for about forty five minutes. Let it set for a few minutes before bringing it to the table.

SteamerClams1

Dad’s Manhattan Clam Chowder

This is my Dad’s recipe for Manhattan clam chowder. He’s the one who taught me how to cook when I was a ‘lil’ fisherman’. When I was young I would go out and dig up clams out in Moriches Bay. They were rather plentiful back then, and there weren’t any restrictions on eating local clams. Or at least none that I recall, but what did I know, I was just one of those slacker teens.

Well, the clams that I returned with would be steamed and eaten that way, Dad used canned clam in his chowder.

  • 2 cans chopped clams
  • 2 28oz cans whole tomatoes, in puree
  • 3 medium potatoes
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 2 medium onions
  • 3 ribs of celery
  • 2 cups water
  • Olive oil
  • Bay leaf, thyme, garlic powder, salt

 

Dad would start with sautéing the onion in a little olive oil in a pan. In the soup pot he would put about two cups of water with the celery and carrots and cook them until al dente. Then he would put the onions, diced potatoes,  cut up tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, garlic powder, and salt ‘to taste’.  As he says you cook this until the potatoes are done. When they are ‘done’ add the two cans of clams with their liquid. Stir this all together, and turn the heat to simmer and in a minute or two serve it up. Perhaps with a side of freshly gotten clams steamed in their own juice.

The ingredients were pretty straight forward. I think he used local Long Island potatoes. If he was making a big batch, he would split the pot before the potatoes were done. At some point in the cooking, when the potatoes were ‘half-done’ as he said, he would transfer half of the chowder into a separate pot and add one can of clams to each pot. Then the ‘hot pot’ was returned to the low heat on the stove, and the second pot was allowed to cool down.

This second pot, once cooled to room temperature was ladled into plastic containers and put in the freezer. He did this because the potatoes, once fully cooked would turn to mush if you thawed out frozen finished chowder. Ice crystals formed in the frozen potatoes once thawed was the culprit that turned those potatoes mushy. So he figured that if you froze the potatoes in the chowder before they were cooked, they would be too dense for large crystals to form, and so they would not turn to mush when the chowder was thawed out.

But you do have to finish the cooking once you do thaw the chowder out.

New England Clam Chowdah

So, for my second blog, I will combine two of my favorite things, soup, and seafood. Yes, today’s thoughts are of ‘chowdah’… the New England style clam chowder popular in these parts. I always refer to the New England style as ‘chowdah’ and the Manhattan version as ‘chowder’.

This is really a fairly simple straight forward soup consisting of:

  • 1 can of chopped clams
  • 2 rashers of bacon rough diced
  • 2 large ribs of celery rough diced
  • 2 medium carrots rough diced
  • 3 red potatoes cubed
  • 1 pat of butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup half and half
  • ½ pint of white mushrooms rough diced
  • Sea salt

I start by rendering two rasher of thick cut bacon diced, then, add the diced mushrooms to brown with medium heat on the stove. Then toss in the pat of butter, let that fully melt, then whisk in the flour to create a roux. I generally cook it to a blond roux because gentlemen prefer blonds (or so I’ve heard).

Once the roux has developed, I add a little of the water to deglaze the pot. Then I toss in the potatoes and add more water to just cover them. Let them get a little head start in the pot with a shake or two of sea salt, after a few minutes add the diced celery and carrots and bay leaves and enough water to cover them.

Once the veggies have softened a bit, and the broth becomes fragrant, reduce the heat to a simmer and add in the half and half, and the can of clams. Now, I prefer not to drain the can, I add the liquid straight into the pot with the clams. Let this blend in and meld with the rest of the ingredients.

When the chowdah is ready, I like to serve it in a wide, somewhat shallow bowl. But before ladling the soup into the bowl, I toast up a slice or two per bowl of any left over Italian bread. I put these toasts in the bowl, and then ladle the chowdah over them, but most folks are happy to stick with oyster crackers. This is also an opportunity to use up any left over biscuits that might be lying around, placing them in the bowl before the chowdah.

I have found that creating the roux at the start of the process goes a long way in creating the thick and creamy texture that I like at the end of the process. Now, there are some cooks who prefer to thicken their chowdahs not with roux, but by using more, starchier potatoes, like Idaho’s, and mashing some of them in the cooking process to release their additional starch, but I find those chowdah too lumpy and not silky.

Now, as to the bacon, I use the thick cut rashers which I find at Western Beef market. This chain of grocery stores features a large meat department in a separate room off the main store and you have to walk through one of those thick plastic strip-doors to get to it. It’s always nice and cold in there. Some more traditional recipes use salt pork instead of bacon as the fat of choice for the chowdah. This is a good use for salt pork, but I tend to prefer the ‘smokiness’ that the bacon brings.

The mushrooms are not a needed part of the chowdah, and I only add them to stretch the bacon and clam ingredients. I find that I can get the mushrooms on sale for about a dollar to a dollar fifty per pint. If you skip the mushroom, then add an extra rasher of bacon, and another can of clams.

Well, here’s hoping that you decided to bring a bit of the seashore in-doors the next time the weather turns chilly…