I was thinking of doing something nice for my mom when I picked up a dozen Littleneck clams at Whole Foods.
I was thinking about New York City, about Little Italy, this clam house we both love there and always go back to. I find myself fending off the impulse to apologize for loving Little Italy. The thing is, my mother and I are perfectly content to be tourists when that’s exactly what we are. So this October, when we were seated on that patio again, and ordered, for the third time, oysters, white wine and baked clams, it was completely without irony.
And when I asked the waiter what they put in their amazing clams, and he told me, I thought it couldn’t sound easier. Breadcrumbs, seasoning, Parmesan cheese. No problem, I thought. Stuffing things is easy. I stuff things all the time. Mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, birds. No problem.
But I didn’t expect to run into stubborn clams. A cocky kind of oversight. Shucking oysters can be tough, but with the right knife I manage it even with a measure of grace, and I thought the clams could be dealt with the same way. No. After ten minutes of trying to pry open a single clam I chucked it to the floor, utterly defeated and a little… huffy.
Then this amazing thing happened: It opened. The impact made a pristine crack down the center of one of the shells, and I opened it effortlessly, like opening a book. And, ignorant as I was of some essential clam-shucking technique, the knife I was using started to look stupider and stupider. So I abandoned the knife and succumbed to looking stupid myself, knocking the clams against each other like a manic sea otter. (I abandoned the floor technique after discovering a crack in the tile where the clam had just been. Sorry, Mom.)
And…voila! They were delicious. You can’t even tell I had to go all… caveman… to get them open. The only thing that keeps me from recommending this technique is that it’s obviously a little–maybe a lot–nuts.
But I have to say, it was fun. Really, remarkably fun. Cathartic.
– Angela M.
Baked Littleneck Clams
– 1 dozen little neck clams on the half shell
– 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
– 2-3 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
– 1 tsp paprika
– ¼ tsp garlic powder
– Red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper
– Olive oil
– Salt and pepper
– 2-3 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
– 1 tsp lemon zest
– ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
– 2 tbsp butter
– Fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs, paprika, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Combine thoroughly, and toast the mixture until it is golden brown, no longer than five minutes.
Cut the heat and add lemon zest, garlic and chopped parsley, reserving a teaspoon of the parsley for garnish. Taste the breadcrumbs—if they are not salty or spicy enough, add more seasoning. Arrange the clams on a baking sheet. Spoon a tablespoon of the mixture onto every clam, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and top with a small pad of butter.
Bake 10-15 minutes, until butter is melted and cheese is browned. Give the clams a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and sprinkle ’em with the remaining parsley. And then… eat them! While they’re hot! Right away!
One year ago: Bananas Foster Ebelskiver