Have you ever met Stephen Skelton? Or, more importantly I suppose, do you like a good homemade duck prosciutto, fresh pasta with steaming ragu, and a perfectly arranged bowl of littlenecks, with a cheese plate for desert?
I thought so. Me too. The other night we held another one of those Community Suppers, with Mary DeBartolo, who heads up the Slow Food chapter around here, and Stephen cooked. It was held at the Wine List in Hyannis, and it was absolutely wonderful. We had forty guests, lots of wine, and especially tasty littlenecks. Sarah Robin from the Flying Fish/Hillcrest Pizza and Chelsea Vivian from Edible Cape Cod and I served, running around in all-black, carrying plates and washing dishes and sneaking into the kitchen for goblets of wine and stolen prosciutto.
If you're wondering why I'm telling you about all this after the fact, well, there are two reasons. The first is to apologize for not letting you know sooner—I plan to be much more proactive about that for future dinners. (I promise. I've even added a little sidebar do-hickey and everything. Just look at me and my html wizardry!) The second is that I have Stephen's recipes for littlenecks, and duck prosciutto, so that you can recreate them at home. I hope you'll think this is a fair trade.
Actually what Stephen has offered are not really recipes, but more like sets of guidelines. He says that's how he likes to cook, and I have to say, I think it's a good way. It's much better to work with a set of well-intentioned directions that leave room for a bit of creativity than stay on the straight and narrow all the time, hopping from recipe to recipe. So here they are—mainly in his words—with a few tweaks here and there.
(Oh! and if you're inspired to try and find him and taste his cooking for yourself, for the next few weeks, he'll be doing demos and dinners at the Wine List. Once May swings around, he's hoping to open up a new venture, a restaurant called "The Glass Onion" in Falmouth. I can't wait to see how it turns out!)
STEPS TOWARD A GOOD POT OF LITTLENECKS
in Stephen Skelton's words:
I encourage people to not follow exact recipes but instead use more or less of what they do or don't like.
There wasn't exactly a recipe for the littlenecks, but more a preference of amounts of olive oil, chopped garlic, rinsed littlenecks, white wine, peeled carrots cut into thin strips, and washed leeks cut into thin strips.
Just heat a pan with a little oil, add the garlic to cook out the raw harshness, add the littlenecks, wine, carrots and leeks. Cover the pan over medium heat and wait for the clams to open. When they are open...enjoy with homemade bread.
in Stephen Skelton's words:
The duck requires a little more care and time; it takes a week to cure.
Trim excess fat from the duck breast, season with a fine grind of black or white pepper. In a container just large enough to hold the breasts in one layer without touching each other, cover the bottom of the container with salt. Lay the duck, skin side down on the salt (do not let the sides of the breast touch each other or the sides of the container). Cover the duck completely with more salt. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Rinse the duck in a bowl of cold water. Discard all of the salt. Dry the duck well with a clean towel. Wrap in cheesecloth, tie with string and hang it (from the handle of a pan or something similar) for one week. It should feel firm but not hard. Slice the duck thin and serve with cranberry juice cooked down into a syrup or another sweet style sauce to offset the salt of the cured duck.
Note: Because the salt has pulled the moisture out of the duck, it does not have to be cooked. This is one of the oldest methods of food preserving.