It’s just not summertime until we have clams. And, well, technically it’s not even summer yet. We still have two weeks of spring to go, but the summertime vibes have been strong around here lately.
Now, listen. I know there’s a few of you angrily shaking your fists at the screen right now. These clams commit the cardinal Italian sin that is no cheese with seafood. Ever. But rules were meant to be broken, and this is one I’m happy to break. It’s also one Italians break, although they won’t ever actually admit it. Anchovies on pizza, anyone?
Italians tend to get super fired up about their food, and about this rule in particular. I’ve seen many Italian chefs adamant and almost angry about the notion of sprinkling a little parm over a fish based pasta dish. The horror! I remember my grandfather, a first generation Sicilian American, always telling the story about how he went to Italy and asked for grated cheese on his linguini alla vongole, or what he called “bysta with the clams,” and got into a heated argument with the waiter. He was very upset they wouldn’t give him any cheese, and the waiter was even more upset and offended that he’d asked.
I find it very silly, to be honest. Robert Trachtenberg says it well in his piece in the New York Times. If you want to put cheese on seafood, knock yourself out. Whether or not someone else – or an entire culture – thinks it’s a good idea is irrelevant. The bottom line is that, when used properly, cheese and seafood can be downright delicious together, and to me, delicious trumps all rules. It’s a lot more common than you might think, too. Lox and cream cheese. Lobster mac n’ cheese. Chargrilled oysters. Caesar salad. These clams!
If I haven’t convinced you that seafood and cheese can be a wonderful thing, then I probably never will. You can just stop reading here. The rest of this post is strictly for those with an open mind, an adventurous spirit and a propensity for loving strongly flavored foods. Both clams and blue cheese are polarizing. You either love them or you hate them, and I happen to love each one as much as the next.
Because they both have very distinct and intense flavors, neither the clams nor the blue cheese overpower one another here. The creamy tang from the blue cheese is a perfect compliment to the meaty, salty clams. A little white wine and tomatoes provide the right accent of acidity, while a bit of butter tones it down and smooths it out. The crowning jewel is the shower of fresh basil right at the end. It makes all the difference in the world. The basil adds freshness and summeriness and a fragrance that hits you in the nose before you even take a bite.
Just as important as the basil is the bread that gets served on the side. This recipe makes a lot of broth, which is arguably even better than the clams when soaked into fresh, crusty bread. I like to brush the slices with some olive oil and throw them on the grill for a few minutes. They get toasty and a little smoky and can easily turn this dish into a meal. Also very important, the wine. You’ll need a little bit for the recipe, so you might as well drink the rest. I used sauvignon blanc, as that’s what I like to drink in the summer, but anything crisp and dry will work.
Many different blue cheeses would be lovely in this dish, but as irony would have it, I like Italian gorgonzola the best. Gorgonzola dolce, to be exact. It’s super creamy and mellow but still packs a nice punch. Half of the cheese melts into the broth, while the other half stays in little bits that nestle right into the clams. You could certainly follow the rules and leave the blue cheese out altogether, but where’s the fun in that?
It’s almost summertime, and we need all the fun we can get.
One Year Ago: Fava Beans with Prosciutto + Cream
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used sauvignon blanc)
- 1 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- 50 littleneck clams, soaked and scrubbed clean of any sand
- salt, to taste, only if needed*
- freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
- 6 ounces creamy blue cheese, such as gorgonzola dolce
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
- crusty bread for dipping
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic for about one minute, then add the white wine and cook until reduced by half, about one or two minutes. Add the tomatoes and use a wooden spoon to break them up into large pieces, then simmer, uncovered, for about five minutes.
- Add the clams and toss to coat, then turn the heat to high, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and use a pair of tongs to remove any clams that have opened up into a serving bowl. Continue placing open clams in the bowl until they've all opened up. If there are any clams that won't open, cover and wait a few minutes, and if they're still being stubborn, discard them.
- Stir the butter into the sauce one piece at a time, then crumble in the blue cheese and stir. Some of the cheese will melt into the sauce, but be sure there are plenty of chunks that still remain. Stir in half of the basil, then pour over the clams. Top with the remaining fresh basil and serve immediately with crusty bread for dipping.