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Clams served with pancetta, roasted tomatoes, greens

Food For Thought
By Deborah Lee Walker | Apr 19, 2017

(April 21, 2017) The philosophy of cookery centers upon a constellation of ideas that construct a chef’s craft so comprehension can pivot a particular dish to unequivocal standards.

That being said, lessons learned beyond the realm of the kitchen must be considered if progression is to prevail. Allow me to share how clams have created a timeline of climate conditions over the last millennium.

You probably have not given much thought when it comes to clams but these marine bivalve mollusks have taught scientists much about the world we live in. According to, “It’s Written in the Shells: 500 Years of History as Told by One Clam,” a research team has spent the last two decades examining the chemical composition of the longest-lived animal, the ocean quahog clam, to find out how the climate of the Northern Atlantic Ocean has changed in relation to the atmosphere.

The quahog can live for more than 500 years, and as it does, the clam develops growth rings in its shells. As with trees, the growth rings are at wider increments when conditions are more favorable and narrower when circumstances are less promising. By comparing live and fossilized shell rings, marine biologists have been able to construct a continuous record of yearly sea temperatures that span for 1,200 years, the longest record.

The article maintains the planet is covered with 70 percent ocean and it has absorbed more heat caused by greenhouse gases, and at a greater depth than previously realized. In addition, temperature increases could diminish the ocean’s vital ability to absorb carbon dioxide.

In essence, the current path could have devastating results for marine life and mankind. One must ask, how long can our oceans continue to absorb this heat before it is too late?

Getting back to the quahog clam, these tempting goodies are devoured on the Eastern Shore year-round. A few tips ensures delicious dishes every time.

Fresh clams should have an ocean-fresh aroma and the shells should be closed. Give any open-shelled clam a tap, and if they do not shut, discard them.

Sand is particularly an issue if you prepare fresh clams. You have to remember they have spent their lives nestled in the sand. As a result, wash clams in a large, white, plastic bowl; this way the sand is very apparent and ensures the rinsing and removal of all the sand.

Allow clams to sit in cool tap water for approximately 30 to 60 minutes; during this time, they will purge the sand inside their shells. When you are ready to cook them, scrub each clam with a brush to clean any particles or grit from the outside surface.

When cooking hard-shell clams, there can be as much as a five-minute difference between when the first clam opens and the last one opens (indicating doneness). Clams can easily be overcooked, leaving them tough and shriveled. To ensure perfectly cooked clams, remove each clam as it opens and place them in a plate-covered bowl. This way the clams will remain warm and you will not lose their coveted juices.

Steamed clams with pancetta, roasted tomatoes and mustard greens is a delightful medley. The gorgeous ruby red roasted tomatoes and emerald green mustard greens add to the rainbow of colors. The pancetta gives the dish depth and welcomed texture.

The following recipe is an adaptation from Tom Colicchio’s “Think like a Chef.” The roasted tomatoes bring a whole new level of taste but are optional. They can be replaced with chopped Roma tomatoes. Enjoy!

Steamed Clams with Pancetta, Roasted Tomatoes and Mustard Greens

Ingredients

2 tomatoes or 4 Roma tomatoes, chopped

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

extra-virgin olive oil

6 ounces pancetta, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 shallots, finely chopped

½ cup dry white wine

¾ chicken stock

¾ cup seafood stock

3 dozen little neck clams

4 cups mustard greens, chopped

crusty bread

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the tomatoes in half (horizontally), and place them in a small bowl. Season tomatoes with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the tomato halves on the baking sheet, cut side down.

2. Bake until the tomato skins loosen, about 20 minutes. Remove and discard them. Return the tomatoes to the oven and reduce temperature to 275 degrees. Continue roasting, periodically pouring off the juices until tomatoes are slightly shrunken and concentrated but not dry, about 3 to 4 hours. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and allow to cool on baking sheet.

3. Remove the core and seeds and allow to cool on baking sheet.

4. Place the pancetta in a pot large enough to hold the clams. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is crisp, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

5. Increase the heat to medium and add garlic, shallots and a touch of olive oil. Sauté for 3 minutes, then add roasted tomatoes. Cook for another minute.

6. Pour in the wine and stocks, and raise the heat to high. Once the stock mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Add clams, cover, and steam until done.

7. Remove lid and add greens, cook just until greens are wilted.

8. Top with pancetta, drizzle of olive oil and a light dusting of freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Secret Ingredient - Perseverance. “I haven’t failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison

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