Let me put your minds at ease, right here at the top: No, our kids do not love clams. They’re kids, first of all, and clams are kind of freaky. The most I can say, while maintaining journalistic integrity, is that our kids and clams are in the process of learning to coexist. They’re getting to know one another. They’ll eat one or two, at most — warily, and with some prodding — before they move on to the safety of chips and guac. But learning to coexist is important, and exposure, as we have argued here before, is half the battle. And, this summer, we’re not having any trouble in the exposure department. This summer, we are all about clams.
At the risk of sounding predictable, we are sticking to a script these days when it comes to entertaining – and, more specifically, when it comes to appetizers. There will be no elaborate cheese platters, no overly-produced dips, no bruschetta. (Okay, maybe some bruschetta.) Whenever we have people over, and even when we don’t, we do up a bowl of littlenecks from The Fish Guy at the farmer’s market, slice a fresh, crusty loaf of bread, set out some napkins and forks, and let that be our appetizer plate. We find that even if the kids won’t touch the clams, they’ll gladly take a hunk of that bread and dip it into that deep, salty broth. Which, as my parents always used to say, just means more good stuff for us grown-ups. There are endless variations to this dish — spicy, not spicy; garlicky, not garlicky; wine, no wine; basil, or tarragon — but it’s easy and fast, it only dirties up one pot, and clams are, on the farmer’s market spectrum, a relative bargain. Plus, there’s just something festive (and yes, I just used the word festive) about sitting outside with some friends on a summer night, as dinner sizzles on the grill, burning through a bowl of clams and a loaf of bread and tossing the shells — clank, clank, clank — back into the bowl. That’s living.
Steamed Little Necks
Maybe the best part: there’s no stress about overcooking or undercooking when it comes to clams; these things literally open their mouths and tell you when they’re done.
In a Dutch Oven set over medium heat, saute 1 chopped shallot (or spring onion, which we got at our farmer’s market), 1 minced garlic clove, a few shakes of red pepper flakes and some freshly ground pepper in olive oil. (The clams provide their own salt, so hold off until the end and decide if it needs more.) When onion is soft, add about a two dozen fresh clams (about six per person), washed and scrubbed, and a 1/4 cup white or rose wine. Cover and reduce heat to medium low. When the clams steam open, about five to ten minutes, add a handful of chopped tomatoes (any shape or color), some chopped fresh basil, and simmer another two or three minutes. Discard any clams that haven’t opened, and pour into serving bowl. Serve with sliced, crusty bread for sopping. And cold wine.