This recipe for Littleneck Clams in White Wine and Tomatoes has a special sentimental significance; it was the first article I wrote for my food column for a Montana newspaper, almost ten years ago. I grew up in Brookline, in metropolitan Boston, and had just moved to a landlocked (albeit gorgeous in its own right) Montana town, and I was feeling desperately homesick. Summer, to me, meant clams and lobster, and I yearned for a taste of home.
As luck would have it, the local grocery store stocked gorgeous Pacific shellfish at shockingly reasonable prices (alas, no lobster). Imbued with garlic, tomatoes, and a slightly spicy broth perfect for sopping, this recipe for Littleneck Clams in White Wine and Tomatoes saw us through four blissful summers in Montana.
With shellfish, freshness is of the utmost importance. If you are choosing the clams and mussels yourself, (as opposed to them already bagged), look for unblemished and tightly closed shells. Usually the fishmonger will spray the shellfish and then bag them, for the water forces the lazy bivalves to close up. The unlucky still-open ones (who have already met their demise) should be removed. I used only clams last night, but normally I use a mix of mussels and clams. Either is great, or you could use all mussels.
Once you get them home, take them out of their wrapping and place them in a bowl covered with a damp paper towel. Do not immerse them in fresh water; they will soon expire, and be sure to use them within 24 hours. Right before cooking, run some water over them, drain them, and discard any that do not close up. If you have kids, they may get a kick out of watching them close their shells. We had a little wise guy who kept emitting “interesting” noises from the colander in the sink. If you ever are in the presence of a 4-year-old and a farting clam, make sure to take a video. I was laughing too hard.
In all seriousness, one wonderful thing about this recipe is that you can adjust it to suit your own tastes and preferences. For this recipe of Littleneck Clams in White Wine and Tomatoes, the essential ingredients are shellfish, tomatoes, garlic and some sort of liquid (wine, beer or broth) but the rest is fair game to improvise, depending on what is on hand in the pantry. It is possible, and equally delicious, to use red wine instead of white, or omit the alcohol altogether and opt for chicken broth. The beauty of this type of recipe is that soon you will discover your own magic combination that is perfect for you and yours.
Littleneck Clams in White Wine and Tomatoes
A delicious and easy shellfish dish that will be on the table in less than 20 minutes
- 2 pounds live littleneck clams scrubbed
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- 3 Roma tomatoes seeded and chopped
- 3 small shallots or ½ small onion minced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- 2 cups Sauvignon Blanc or other white wine or chicken broth
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons basil or parsley roughly chopped
- lemon wedges for garnish
- Crusty bread for serving
In a large skillet or pot set over medium-high heat, melt the butter or olive oil.
Add the shallots and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and sauté for two minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the tomatoes, clams, mussels, wine or broth, and cover with a tight fitting lid and steam over low heat until clams and mussels have opened, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Garnish with herbs and a squeeze of lemon, if desired.
Discard any clams or mussels that have not opened.
Transfer to serving bowls and ladle with broth.
Serve hot with crusty bread to soak up the broth.
Someone was a fan.