I've been having sort of a clam moment recently. Clam pie, clam chowder, stuffed clams: I'm starting to feel sort of like Bubba Gump, but in a clammy way.
It started with this article I've been working on, for Cape Cod Life magazine. It's about iconic foods of the Cape and islands, and the more I've thought about it, the more I've ended up with clams.
Plus, the fishmonger closed up shop recently, so we've been eating the leftover littlenecks and quahogs and cherrystones. I know some people might not agree, but I find clams sort of dreamy, in a swirly, salty kind of way. They're just so ruffly around the edges, and all pastel and pretty and pink.
I also found a great clam cookbook: The Cape Cod Fish & Seafood Cookbook: From Basic to Gourmet. The author, Gillian Drake, seems like a down-to-earth sort of lady. Her recipes are short, simple, and to the point. There's no fuss, and no fancy ingredients to necessitate a trip to the store. With good seafood, veggies, and herbs, you can cook just about anything in the book.
She has baked stuffed clams, clams casino, clam fritters—clams with red sauce, clam casserole, clam quiche. She even has spaghetti con vongole: clam spaghetti with white clam sauce, just in case you really need a fix. I tried out sort of a modified clam pie recipe today, and that really did the trick.
I'm not going to pretend it was easy. It did involve a fire in the oven (although I like to think of this as sort of a pre-requisite for any truly winning recipe) and a lot of hands on time, but it was very, very good. It was also nice and hearty, in a very January way.
So here's my take—it's not quite Gillian's—but it certainly involved hers along the way. I stole a few ideas from a beef pot pie I saw in the Williams Sonoma catalog, too, like the cheese in the crust and baking it bottomless in a shallow Le Creuset dish.
(In retrospect, this was not the best idea. When there's no bottom crust for the top crust to latch on to, the beautifully bunched edges simply slide down the side of the pan. I'm not sure how Williams Sonoma got theirs to work, but according to my smoke detector, that's one of those "Do not try this at home" pictures. That said, the crust that did not slide did turn out beautifully, so if you're up for an adventure, it might be worth a try. I'll count on you to decide accordingly.)
But beyond the fire and a few lost pieces of crust, the pie came out very handsomely. Not to mention, delicious.
adapted from the Cape Cod Fish & Seafood Cookbook: From Basic to Gourmet, by Gillian Drake
Serves 4 to 6
24 cherrystone clams
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup salt pork, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup celery, finely chopped
1 smallish turnip, diced
1 tablespoon dried thyme, or leaves of 1 sprig if fresh
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 ounce brandy
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
pastry for a 2 crust, 9-inch pie
2 to 3 ounces goat or blue cheese
Shuck or steam open the clams and chop coarsely, saving 1/2 cup of liquor. Heat up over medium heat an approximately 9-inch round, heavy bottomed pot, 3 to 4 inches deep (similar in size to a deep dish pie plate). Add salt pork to the pot and sauté for about a minutes, until the pork begins to render some fat. Then add the onions and celery, and once they're soft (about 5 minutes), the turnips, clams, and thyme too. After sautéing everything together for about 5 minutes, transfer the mixture to a bowl.
Put the pan back on the stove and put in the butter to melt. When it's hot, add the flour slowly, stirring with a whisk until it's absorbed. Add the clam liquor slowly, stirring until every addition is absorbed. Add the cream and brandy in the same manner. Now season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste, simmer for a minute or two, and add the clam mixture back in. Mix well, remove from heat, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the pie crust into two very thin layers. On top of one, crumble the cheese in a circle in the center. Put the other layer over top, and roll out a bit more gently. Drape the crust over the pot the clam mixture is in, letting it cave to reach the clams. If you don't want to bake the pie in that pot, transfer the clams to a pie plate and drape crust to cover that. Crimp the edges—very carefully anchoring them on the side and angling them towards the inside of the pot/plate—otherwise they will detach, slide off, and burn. Brush the crust with milk and bake about 30 minutes, or until the filling is thick and the crust is golden. Serve hot.