Sunday, January 11, 2009

Happy Clams

I don’t know about you, but I have a slight case of the post-holiday blues. I would love to be on a Caribbean island right now, but I’d happily settle for a beach in Florida too. I was on such a high for most of December between all of my CocoaRoar chocolate-making and Christmas concerts, and I ushered in 2009 quite joyously surrounded by wonderful friends and great food. But now the holidays are officially over, and it is downright frigid outside. What little snow we’ve had in New York hasn’t been at all satisfying, especially since it keeps turning into treacherous ice. I feel claustrophobic on the crowded subways where everyone is swathed in bulky layers, taking up much more space than usual. I AM very excited about the upcoming Inauguration Day, but otherwise there are no upcoming January holidays to look forward to.

If you are feeling anything like I am (and if a beach vacation is out of the question for you too right now), you need something right now that will lift your spirits, transporting you far beyond your winter doldrums. You want to make--or have someone make for you--food that is hearty and soul-satisfying, something that will warm you to the deepest fiber of your being. And that is why I need to tell you about Happy Clams.

Simply put, this chorizo&clam stew is something to make for people you really love. I always want my friends and family to feel appreciated and well taken care of whenever I cook for them, and these Happy Clams are one of my all-time favorite dishes to make when I really want my friends to feel special.

Adapted from a recipe from Mario Batali’s marvelous book, Simple Italian Food, this dish is about building layers of flavor. Beautiful succulent clams and smoky chorizo swim together quite magically in a white wine-and-tomato broth, with some onion and wild mushrooms thrown in for textural interest. It is a guaranteed winner each time.

It’s really very simple. Obviously you will need clams for this dish. A dozen or two littleneck clams ought to do the trick. (For some reason, it’s difficult for me to say “littleneck clams” without totally smiling!) Scrub them well so that they’re squeaky clean and won’t track any grit into the stew. Look at them, aren’t they gorgeous?!!

You will also need a sausage, an onion, and some mushrooms. To be precise, you will want to get chorizo (the smoky Spanish sausage), a purple onion, and some shiitake mushrooms. That little sprig of thyme will also be useful.

If the chorizo you’re using has a papery skin, carefully peel that off before slicing it into small ½-inch coins. And if there is a little piece of yarn holding the two ends of the chorizo together, by all means discard that too along with the papery skin. My mouth is already watering to think of how the earthy smoked paprika flavor of the chorizo will contrast marvelously with the briny clams. Just you wait. The mushrooms are sliced, the onion is diced, and that thyme sprig is still waiting in anticipation.

You’re also going to need some canned crushed tomatoes, the very best you can find. I myself am partial to San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, because they’re sweeter and more concentrated in tomato flavor than your average canned tomato. The Muir Glen organic tomatoes are also excellent.

Choose a large heavy deep pot with a tight-fitting lid. Let’s start layering these flavors, first by sautéing the chorizo, mushrooms, onions and thyme leaves in some olive oil. Next we’re going to build the broth. The sweet red vermouth is first, bubbling madly when it is added to the pot. Now comes dry white wine, crushed tomatoes and those beautiful littleneck clams. Give them a good stir and immediately cover with a lid. You don’t have to touch them for 10 minutes while they cook, just let the clams get happy and slightly drunk in this winey briny broth.



Did I mention that you’re going to want some Wine-Laced Garlic Bread to go with your Happy Clams? Trust me, the broth is so intoxicatingly good that you’ll REALLY want some crusty bread to dip into it and mop up every last drop. You can prepare the garlic bread while the clams are cooking.

To make Wine-Laced Garlic Bread, combine a minced garlic clove and a few sprigs of thyme leaves with some olive oil. Cut a baguette in half lengthwise and drizzle the cut sides of the baguette with a tablespoon or two of wine. (I’m always ready to make this since I love having a glass of wine while I cook, and I know many of you do too! You can use red or white wine, whatever you have open.) Spoon the garlic-thyme oil on top of the wine-soaked bread, and stick under the broiler until the edges just begin to turn golden. Isn’t that beautiful?


It's been ten minutes. Let’s see what the clams did. Are they done? Did they all open?!?

SUCCESS!!! Check them out, I swear they look like they’re laughing! Happy littleneck clams indeed!

I sometimes make a version of it with mussels and shrimp to keep the clams company, but for right now I’m keeping it pretty basic. Look at the tomato broth clinging to the shells, the chorizo mingling with the clams. There is so much love happening in just one bite of this stew, I’m ready to swoon thinking about how satisfying this is.

I think it’s important to have recipes in your repertoire which produce such impressive and delicious results without your having to slave away in the kitchen all day. This clam stew is a dish which is greater than the sum of its parts, and everyone always freaks out over it. Having said that, Happy Clams can be a perfect fit for many different occasions. This is a fabulous thing to serve when you’re trying to cook your way into someone’s heart, for I can guarantee that that lucky person will be even more appreciative of you after eating these deliriously Happy Clams than they were before! This is one of my favorite things to throw together when friends come for dinner in between performances on a double-show day when we don’t have a lot of time, since I can prep everything ahead of time and the clams cook quickly. So many of my musician friends are such huge foodies, and this is a great thing to make when I have people over for a chamber music reading party and want to offer them something more substantial than wine, cheese and olives. This clam stew also feels festive enough that I’ve made it on Christmas, and my parents loved it so much that they decided that this should be our new Owen family Christmas tradition! Perhaps this will be my celebratory dish to make on Inauguration Day next week as well…

And suddenly, January doesn’t seem so bleak anymore now that Happy Clams are part of the picture!

Slightly adapted from a recipe in Simple Italian Food by Mario Batali

3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces chorizo, sliced
8 ounces wild mushrooms, sliced (I usually use a combination of shiitake and cremini mushrooms)
1 medium red onion, cut into ½-inch dice
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup sweet red vermouth
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the chorizo, mushrooms, onion and thyme leaves, and sauté for 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the sweet vermouth and let boil for a minute. Add the white wine, crushed tomatoes, and the clams to the pot. Stir well and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and discard any clams which haven’t opened. Ladle the stew into wide shallow bowls, and serve with good crusty bread or Wine-Laced Garlic Bread to mop up all the sauce. Prepare yourself to be transported to culinary bliss.

1 comment:

adrienne said...

oh louise! you've done it again-- just don't know which one to try first -- they happy clams, the sweet potato/peanut butter soup,the lovely chocolate toasts -- i love reading your blog!