MAKES 24–36 CLAMS, SERVING 6–8 PEOPLE AS AN APPETIZER
When we go clamming, we end up with quahogs of many different sizes but the majority will usually be around 2–3 inches in diameter. If you’re using really small littlenecks from the fishmonger for this recipe you’ll end up with a more than enough stuffing for 24–36 clam shells; either prepare and stuff more shells or freeze the remaining stuffing for another day.
40 quahogs, preferably dug yourself but cherrystone, littlenecks or Mahogany clams from the fishmonger are fine, shells scrubbed clean
6 slices peasant-style bread, crusts removed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small white onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Grated zest of 2 lemons, preferably organic
12 basil leaves, slivered
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 teaspoon minced chives, for garnish
1-2 chive flowers, individual blossoms pulled apart,
Lemon wedges, for serving
Preheat oven to 400°F. Pile the clams in a large pot and add a cup or 2 of water. Cover and bring to a boil, then lift the lid and check to see if the clams are opening. Using tongs, remove the clams as soon as they open, reserving them in a large bowl. Remove the meat from the shells and chop it coarsely; set aside. Separate each shell into 2 halves, then choose 24–36 nice big ones and lay them out on a rimmed baking sheet; be sure to check the inside of each shell for any shards or shell fragments and remove them, then set shells aside. (If using very small clams, you may need more shells.)
Meanwhile, toast the bread slices in the preheated oven until browned and crispy. Tear or break into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarse crumbs form. (Don’t process so long that the bread turns to dust—this would make a dense stuffie!)
Sauté the minced onion in the olive oil and butter until softened, then add garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1–2 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs, reserved chopped clams and any accumulated liquid, the lemon zest, sliced basil, pinch of cayenne, salt and pepper to taste and toss thoroughly to coat everything in the butter-oil-onion mixture; sauté for 2–3 minutes to crisp up the breadcrumbs and add more butter if the mix appears too dry. Squeeze in the juice of one lemon, add most of the Parmigiano Reggiano and toss again.
Pack each clamshell full of the clam mixture, then sprinkle a little more Parmigiano and grind some pepper over each one. Bake in the upper third of the oven for 15–20 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle with minced chives (or chive blossoms if you have them); serve with extra lemon wedges to squeeze at the table, small cocktail forks and lots of napkins.
Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, vegetable gardener and managing editor of Edible Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org