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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Baked Stuffed Clams

GLTUEN-FREE | DAIRY OPTIONAL | DETOX-FRIENDLY


Clams are one of the best bargains at the seafood market: inexpensive, widely available, low on the toxicity scale, and very versatile.

This elegant appetizer is an easy way to prepare them. There are a few steps involved - cooking the clams, making the stuffing, and then baking them - but none are difficult and the first two can be done in advance so you can pop them in the oven whenever you want.

I used local Mahogany Neck clams, but you can use any clams that are fresh and local for you.


The fresh herb I chose for this dish is thyme. Feel free to substitute because others would work well too, especially dill, tarragon, or parsley. I also added some dried Herbes de Provence, a mixture of herbs common in the south of France. I store them in a pepper grinder and grind them to order for maximum flavor. If you don't have Herbes de Provence, substitute dried oregano or another dried herb of your choice.

I spiced up this appetizer with a pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes. You could substitute crushed red pepper flakes or a fresh chili pepper, thinly sliced, or omit it completely if you don't like your clams spicy.

Ground almonds and heavy cream help the stuffing stay together. For a dairy-free dish, in place of cream you could use white wine or some of the liquid leftover from steaming the clams. For a nut-free dish, substitute ground Parmesan cheese for the almonds.

This recipe makes about 18 stuffed clams on the half shell. You can stretch it out by adding extra vegetables or seafood -- like fish, shrimp, or calamari -- but be sure to add extra seasoning as well. You'll have 48 half shells available.

Ingredients:

24 medium to large clams, about 2 pounds
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence
Sea salt to taste
Ground peppercorn to taste
Pinch Aleppo pepper flakes
1/2 cup ground raw almonds
1/4 cup heavy cream or clam broth

Method:

Fill a large, covered soup pot with an inch of water.

Scrub the clams well, discarding any that don't close.  Drop them into the pot, filling it no more than half full so the shells have room to open up.  If need be, cook the clams in two pots or two batches.

Cover the clams and turn the heat up to medium-high. Once the water boils, reduce the heat to medium-low. Steam the clams until they open up, about 5 minutes depending on their size. Keep a close eye on them so they don't overcook and the pot doesn't boil over.




Once the clams have opened, transfer them to a platter to cool. Discard any clams that haven't opened. Pour almost all of the liquid through a fine mesh strainer, leaving behind the sandy bit at the end. Save the clam stock for seafood soups or chowder, stored in an air-tight container in the fridge or freezer.

Once the clams have cooled, separate the meat from the shells and set the shells aside.


If the clams are sandy, rinse them well. If they aren't, do not rinse them. Cut each cooked clam into about 6 pieces and set them aside in a large mixing bowl.

Melt the butter in a large skillet and cook the onion, celery, and bell pepper until softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes.

While the vegetables cook, select 20 of the largest and most attractive half shells. Rinse each one well, using your fingers to make sure that any sand is removed completely, inside and out. Set them aside to drain.

Once the vegetables have softened and started to brown, grate in the garlic and stir in the herbs, salt, peppercorn, and pepper flakes. Continue cooking for another minute, then transfer the mixture to the bowl with the chopped clams.

Add the ground almonds and cream to the bowl as well. (If you are using Parmesan instead of ground almonds, allow the vegetable mixture to cool first.) Toss everything together until well-combined. The mixture should be thick, sticky, and chunky. Taste it for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments.

Fill the half shells with the stuffing. If you're making them ahead, store them in an air-tight container in the fridge.




When you're ready to bake them, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the stuffed clams on a baking sheet. Bake them for 30 minutes, until golden brown on top. Serve immediately.


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