Wednesday, May 20, 2009

faster than a restaurant - and better, too

like most people,
when i'm in a hurry
and determined to make
i often turn to pasta.
it's so fast, so simple
and i know
i can concentrate on six
other things - like bills, where my
other green shoe is, the fact that i got home
from work really late, that i have to go
into work really early tomorrow and
that i really want to watch the
american idol finale
before midnight - while boiling
up a pot of penne and stirring
in a sauce.

but i'm trying hard to break
away from the
easy pasta way out.
not to say i'll quit cold
turkey (in fact, i have one
still to share),
just that i'm open to other
but-really-are-fast options.

recently, a
challenging day at work,
combined with getting home
late, made me decide to
treat myself to one
of my all time favorite foods:
fresh clams
(i'm a fan of all things seafood,
shellfish especially.
if pushed, i'm not sure whether
i would fall on the side of a
mussel or clam freak. ideally,
i'd mix them together and call it
a day - soon, i'll give you my favorite
mussel dish and let you be
the judge).

i love them tiny,
like cockles, which we used in
school once to make an unbelievably
mellow miso soup, 
to steamers, which are so gritty,
they require multiple baths,
to the large chowder clams,
that can be chopped up and 
stirred into soups or sauces.
commonly, i use
cherry stones
little necks.
the mahogany are very dark,
almost black,
extra briny and release
a lot of their own juices
when steamed open.
the little necks are slightly
smaller, pale grey, sweet
and not quite as briny.
the cherry stones can get
quite large and risk 
chewiness if not pulled
from the pot once open.

so simple and really
a one pot treat,
clams require little more
than a soak or scrub,
and then a quick steam
with flavor boosters.
toss them into a bowl -
or, i don't judge,
enjoy them straight from
the pot to save yourself an
extra dish to wash -
serve with a warm loaf of bread
and dinner is done.
i've often steamed open
clams with shallots, garlic,
white wine and clam juice -
so delicious.
but when i want a bit
more oomph,
i turn to my revised
version of this recipe,
originally from bon appetit.

it's very fast -
there is chopping, but i rationalize
that that's my soaking time for
the clams.
then, while i saute a healthy
spoonful of chopped garlic
and another of jalapenos
(which smells fabulous, by the way)
i give the clams a water change.
by the time the time
the liquids are bubling away,
i drain the shells, add them
to the saucepot, cover
and walk away.

usually, i set the timer
for a little less than called
for in the recipe -
anywhere between 5 and 10
minutes, typically, and
pry the lid off the pot.
and this is usually about the time
that i mutter to myself,
you have issues.
because you see, i love
lifting the cover (carefully)
to a cloud of steam, waiting for
the puffs to clear and seeing that a couple
of the shells are
honest-to-goodness open
and ready to be eaten.
sick. i know.
but even worse,
i love nothing more in clam
making than after i've transfered
one of the open clams to a bowl
to turn
back to the pot just in time to
watch another shell expand.
constant amusement, i tell you.

once a couple have opened,
i can continue the pattern:
turn back
watch one open,
over again, while having a mini
competition with myself to
see how many will successfully
open. if at the end,
i have zero to two closed
ones left in the pot,
i consider the batch tremendously
there's just something oddly
entertaining and,
dare i say, riveting, standing
over a steaming hot
watching the last two clams
and wondering,
will they?

this time, they all did.

once i move the last of the clams
to the bowl, i stir the lemon zest
and basil into the 
spicy tomato-laced broth,
and then poured the whole thing
into the bowl.
25 minutes, honestly.

tender, sweet and with
this sauce, 
slightly tart 
slightly spicy,
they're a briny treat worth
rolling up your sleeves for.
leave the forks in the drawer
and use the bread to mop up 
the flavorful broth.
dinner? done.
lemon, basil and jalapeno steamed clams
adapted from bon appetit magazine
play around until you find a combination you like. the original recipe called for littleneck clams (negotiable), 1/2 stick butter (not necessary), canned tomato sauce (too much like an italian sauce for me) and no clam juice (for me, usually a must). i've played to make it more my taste. also, regardless of how many pounds of clams i use, i always make the same amount of sauce. this time i used a mixture of 3 pounds of clams, but i've made this with as little as two and up to the 6 pounds called for in the original recipe. to make it a hearty meal, it's ok to fall into old habits and serve over pasta. but for me, there's something great about the clams as they are, hot bread and a crisp salad that you just can't beat.

2-6 pounds mahogany, little neck and/or cherry stone clams
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeno, halved, seeded and chopped (if you like things spicy, leave the seeds in)
2 medium on-the-vine tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup clam juice
1 large juicy lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 cup fresh basil

place clams in colander set in bowl, checking to make sure they are closed*; fill bowl with cool to cold water. gently swish clams around to release grit. drain bowl and repeat several times, letting clams sit in the water for several minutes, swishing occassionally, until no longer gritty at the bottom of the bowl.

in large saucepot over medium-high heat, melt butter; add garlic and jalapeno. cook 3 minutes, or until tender. add tomatoes, wine, clam juice and lemon juice. bring mixture to a boil. drain clams for a final time; gently add to saucepot. cover and set timer for 7 minutes. 

meanwhile, slice basil.

remove lid and using slotted spoons, transfer opened clams to serving bowl (if none are open after 7 minutes, replace lid and let steam 1 minute more, or until a few start to open). continue transfering clams to bowl. once all open clams are transfered (and any closed clams discarded), stir basil and lemon zest into wine mixture. pour over clams. serve with hot bread for dipping.

*clams that are alive and well should close when gently tapped. if once tapped they do not close, set them aside until you finish checking the rest of the clams. tap them a second time, if they still do not close, discard them. same thing goes for clams that do not open - they fooled you going in (it happens to the best of us) and should not be pryed open. toss those, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'll never forget the massive bowl of mussels you made for us the last time we were up. Delicious!