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The heat of mid-summer calls for ease and simplicity in the kitchen. My summer repertoire evolves into one that allows the flavors of the simple ingredients to shine through while leaving plenty of time for me to enjoy the fruits of my labor outdoors - preferably under my pergola, refreshing libation in hand. Few recipes scream ‘summer’ for me as steamed clams.
Growing up, there were summer clambakes at the Italian-American social club where huge pots of clams were fired up and dished out with loaves of crusty bread made by the local Italian bakery. Back then, I hated the squish of the clam in my mouth so was content to simply snuggle next to my mother at the picnic table and eat the little clam muscle still attached from her empty shells. It took a lot of those clam muscles to make a meal but once others caught on, my pile of empty clamshells quickly grew. Thankfully, my palate has evolved since then.
Years later, when I spent time in Sicily along the sea near Taormina, we would lounge on our beach chairs for hours in the hot summer sun. By late day, ready to wet our whistle, we would appropriately change out of our swimsuits, saunter up to the little seaside restaurant and order carafes of crisp white wine and bowls of steaming clams bathed in a luscious fennel garlic broth. We again would sit for hours – the guys playing cards, us girls chatting away while downing piles of fresh little clams. We would finish off the meal with refreshing scoops of granita – freshly made by the little restaurant owner.
This recipe needs nothing more to accompany it than a big loaf of crusty bread, some crisp vino and perhaps some appropriately summer Italian music on Pandora.
Happy summer! Buon appetito!
Sicilian Clams with Fennel Broth
• About 2 pounds littleneck clams
• About 1/3 cup flour
For the broth:
• 1 small to medium bulb fennel, fronds reserved
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
• 2 large shallots, minced
• 1 cup dry white wine
• 2 cups clam broth or juice
• 1 sprig fresh thyme
• Sea salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Fennel fronds, sprigs of thyme for garnish
• Extra virgin olive oil
To clean the clams, place them in a large bowl with cold water. Add in the flour. Soak for at least 30 minutes. The flour, in theory, forces the clams to release any sand. (Fact or fiction? Unknown but why not give it a try?) Scrub the clams under clean cold water to remove any remaining debris from the shell.
Prep the fennel: Trim the fennel bulb. Slice the bulb in half, top to bottom. Remove the core. Thinly slice each half. Set aside.
In a large, heavy pot (large enough to accommodate all the clams), melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add in the garlic, shallots and fennel. Sauté until tender and fragrant, about 5 – 7 minutes. Add in the wine, clam broth and thyme. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cover pot and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes, allowing the flavors to come together. Add the clams to the pot. Cover and cook until the clams have just opened, about 10 minutes. Remove the clams to a bowl as they open, so as to not overcook them. Discard any unopened clams.
Taste and season the broth with salt and pepper if needed. Add the clams back to the pot. Garnish with additional fennel fronds and thyme. Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil to finish.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.