When my daughter was in high school she was fortunate to have a wonderful science teacher who had spent a lot of time at the beaches of Northern California. His particular area of expertise focused on the history and ecology of Point Reyes National Seashore. Located just North of San Francisco, it has stunning vistas and a rocky coastline which is home to many species of wildlife. Having visited it many times, I was thrilled at the prospect of chaperoning a group of students on a several day camping trip where in the company of this learned man, we would explore the area, learn about its evolution and ultimately go digging for clams. Although this trip afforded many rich experiences one of the best parts was finding and getting to eat these little treasures hidden deep in the sand.
Now that I live in a land locked state, fresh clams are not as easy to come by but when I do find them I cannot resist taking them home and preparing something fabulous. Although linguine with clam sauce is one of my all time favorites, I often choose the simplest of all preparations, steaming in a white wine and butter sauce. Such a simple recipe with just a few ingredients, the amount of flavor that is coaxed out of the briny clams paired with the acidity of the lemon and white wine and creaminess of the butter is unbelievable. Be sure you have a crispy baguette to serve alongside because you will want to soak up as much of the broth as you can. Trust me on this one.
I served them with a crispy salad and made it a meal but they are versatile and can be made into appetizers, soup or chowder. added to saffron rice for paella or used in a variety of pasta preparations. Here’s how this uncomplicated recipe goes down.
STEAMED CLAMS IN WHITE WINE Serves 2-4
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ c dry white wine or vermouth
5 lb. littleneck clams, cleaned thoroughly, see note (other varieties such as the larger cherrystone can also be used)
3T flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 small lemon, cut into wedges
- Melt butter over medium heat in a large pan with a tight-fitting lid.
- Add garlic and cook until fragrant and softened slightly, 2-3 minutes, being careful not to burn.
- Raise the heat and add the wine. Bring to a boil.
- Add the clams, cover, cook stirring occasionally, about 5-7 minutes or until clams are open, discard any that remain closed.
- Sprinkle with parsley. If desired, top with a squeeze of lemon juice.
- Serve in individual bowls with some of the delicious cooking liquid and some crusty bread to sop it up.
Note: First check the clams and discard any with broken shells and those that are open and don’t close when tapped. Remember, they are alive. Clams are very sandy and must be cleaned, thoroughly. I start by submerging them in cold water (some people also add salt and cornmeal) and soaking them for an hour or so. Then I scrub the shells with a stiff bristle brush. I then submerge them again in cold water for a few minutes to see of any more sand is noticeable. If it is, I scrub them some more with the brush and check them again. No one enjoys gritty clams so it is worth the trouble.
There are many varieties of clams so if you are interested in learning more about them, I would urge you to check out Clams 101 or any number of informative sites online. For me, these little bivalves are a blank canvas to be used for any number of yummy recipes. The one above allows them to shine and stand on their own, needing little embellishment.
I am thinking Spring now that those huge white mountains created by the plows are diminishing and my thoughts are turning to lighter foods requiring less fuss. I am spreading the love tonight with a cousin of the clam, mussels. I am thinking I might prepare them the exact way I did the clams. I’ll let you know what I decide but until then, keep spreading the love in your home, one dish at a time.