There is a great divide between flourless East Coast clam chowder and all the other approximations of the form that resemble and taste like glue with bits of clams. I am always surprised when restaurants proudly serve this gloppy rendition.
Author Stephanie Izard grew up on the East Coast, where she learned the fine art of great New England clam chowder. She has a clever way with reinterpreting classic dishes. When I eyed this recipe in her book "Girl in the Kitchen," I had to try it. I think of it as clam chowder revisited. No flour, nor is it soupy -- just the essential clam chowder flavors coming together in a fresh approach. Indeed, she has created a wonderful summer first course. Bacon and clams is surely a match made in heaven, and the corn adds an extra sweet layer of flavor.
Unless you are living on the East Coast, where clams are plentiful and very fresh, it's essential to find a reputable local fishmonger who sells really fresh clams. Littlenecks, which are hard-shelled clams, should be even-colored and firm, and have tightly closed shells. If a shell has opened slightly, tap it; it should immediately close tightly; if not discard it. Hard shell clams require a good scrubbing under water to clean them thoroughly.
Lazy, relaxed summer evenings call for casual dishes like this one, served family-style. Serve with ice-cold beer or chilled Rose. The author suggests serving Irish stout because it has the same creaminess that plump steamed clams do, and the toasted malts go beautifully with smoky bacon. Make sure to have an empty bowl for the discarded the shells.
Clams Steamed with Corn, Bacon and Fingerlings
Reprinted with permission from "Girl in the Kitchen" by Stephanie Izard (Chronicle Books, 2011)
Serves 2 to 4.
12 ounces fingerling potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 ears corn, kernels cut off the cob
24 fresh littleneck clams, scrubbed
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 tablespoon butter
Several sprigs fresh mint leaves, chopped, for garnishing
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
2. Toss the potatoes with the oil on a rimmed baking sheet or casserole dish and season with salt and pepper. Roast them until the potatoes are slightly tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool, then slice into 1/2-inch rounds.
3. Heat a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook it until the fat is rendered and the bacon is just browned, about 7 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and sweat by cooking them until they are tender but not browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the sliced potatoes, corn, and clams and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the wine and cover the pot to steam the clams for about 10 minutes. When the clams are completely open, transfer them with the vegetables and bacon to serving bowls or plates with a slotted spoon, leaving the liquid in the pot. (Discard any clams that don't open).
4. Stir the creme fraiche and butter into the pot and simmer over medium-low heat until slightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and spoon the sauce over the clams and veggies. Garnish with the mint.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including most recently "Seriously Simple Parties" (Chronicle Books, 2012), and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)