Steamed Clams with Tomatoes and Basil
A clam injury? I know it sounds improbable. They don’t have pincers, like crabs. Or claws, like lobsters. And yet, there I stood, at last year’s Memorial Day picnic, my shucker in one hand and the other raised over my head, bleeding into a makeshift tourniquet made from my hosts’ ornamental kitchen towel, attracting a lot of the wrong kind of attention. The wound healed, but I don’t shuck clams any more. It feels too risky.
As the anniversary of my clam encounter drew near, I began to wonder, how was I supposed to cook clams this summer without shucking them? But then, an inner voice reminded me of the generosity of the clam—namely, its willingness to be steamed open.
This recipe starts by cooking down some cherry or grape tomatoes in garlic oil in a Dutch oven until they take on a jammy consistency, which intensifies their sweetness. The clams go into the pot with some white wine (use a good one, and drink the rest), where they are slowly coaxed open until their briny, sweet juices run free and mingle with the tomatoes. Finish the dish with a fistful of perfume-y basil, or whatever tender-leafed herb you have on hand. There will be plenty of brothiness to soak up, which I recommend doing with bread that has been grilled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic just as it comes off the heat.
I like rolling up my sleeves and serving the clams straight from the pot, which invariably turns the meal into a communal affair of bumping each other’s elbows out of the way to get to the bottom where all the good stuff generally lies.
As you’ll clearly need more than the wine you’ve cooked with, I recommend moving on to a light- to-medium-bodied red such as Pelaverga—Castello di Verduno is one of my favorite producers. Pelavergas are reasonably priced, bright, and pair well with just about anything. There are only a handful of producers who grow the varietal—whose DOC is located right outside Barolo—so you can enjoy your glass even more knowing that you’re getting a Barolo-like wine for a fraction of the price.