On Sundays, I like to make something for dinner that I can prep ahead of time, leaving me free to play in a weekly online Scrabble tournament all afternoon. I have also wanted to go the seafood route and break out of our chicken and pork rut (Hannah does not eat beef, so that is out of rotation while she is sequestering at home with us). The problem with a lot of seafood is that you pretty much need to make it the day you purchase it and we are not shopping that way during this time of social isolation. So I opted for clam chowder, thanks to a big bushel of clams for sale at Costco that had a more forgiving shelf life.
I love building a meal around a hearty soup. To supplement the clam chowder, I made garlic bread and a big salad. The girls are not big fans of soup, it turns out, so this one will probably not be on the menu again while they are with us, but David and I certainly enjoyed it, and it made for yummy leftovers (for two of the four of us) the next day. And yes, you can totally taste the difference when it is homemade – -you can control the seasoning and the fresh clams – especially in the quantity I used! – are delicious.
I did most of the prep work ahead of time (actually, truth be told, while I was playing my games!) and then put it all together in a jiffy when we were ready to eat .I got the recipe from the Food Network website, www.foodnetwork.com, which I love as a go to when I have an idea and I want to see different takes on it)
New England Clam Chowder
4 dozen little neck or cherry stone clams, scrubbed
4 thick slices bacon, cut into lardons
1 large onions, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch dice
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 bundle of thyme
2 bay leaves
1 to 2 shakes hot sauce, optional (recommended: Tabasco)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Place the clams and 1 cup of water in a large pot. Cover and place over a high heat and cook the clams for 6 to 7 minutes. Uncover and remove the open clams. Cover the pot again and continue cooking the clams that haven’t opened yet.
Cook the clams for another 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and discard any clams that have not opened. Strain the liquid from the pot through a mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter and reserve. (I did not strain it – just reserved it.)
Coarsely chop the clams and reserve.
Drizzle a few drops of olive oil into the bottom of the clam pot and toss in the bacon. Bring the pan to a medium heat. When the bacon has let off a lot of fat and become brown and crispy, toss in the onions and season lightly with salt. Cook the onions until they are very soft and aromatic but have no color, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for another 5 minutes.
Sprinkle the flour over the onions and potato mixture and stir to combine. Gradually whisk in the reserved clam juice. When the clam juice has been whisked in and there are no lumps, whisk in the milk and heavy cream and toss in the bay leaves and thyme. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes.
Toss in the reserved clams. Taste and re-season if needed and add hot sauce if using.
For the garlic bread, I sliced a baguette lengthwise. I mixed together butter, freshly pressed garlic and olive oil (quantities are to taste – I used about 6 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 4 garlic cloves) and coarse salt. I also mixed in some freshly chopped parsley. Spread on the French bread and bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove from the oven and grate Parmesan cheese atop each half and then return to the oven for 5-7 minutes or until the crust is crispy. Slice and serve.
For my salad, I like to add pita chips for added crunch. I slice pita breads open and brush them with olive oil and dried oregano or mixed herbs. Bake at 375 for a few minutes, until crispy. Then break apart and add to the salad when you toss it with your dressing (in this case, an herbed vinaigrette to offset the heaviness of the clam chowder).