Don’t let the fact that our summer feast has four separate recipes scare you off. The prep is fast and simple and boiled down to it’s essential components the dish is beans, slow-braised tomatoes, clams and mayonnaise. Think of them as old friends, coming from different parts of the world and finally uniting for a meal on Cape Cod after the pandemic. Like those meals to come, if there were ever a dish that is greater than the sum its parts, it’s these clams.
Some quick observations. You can use canned cooked white beans. If dried beans are a legume too far by all means have at it with canned. Drain and rinse the beans. Sweat the other ingredients in the beans recipe in olive oil and when everything is soft, add the beans and a splash of water. Taste for seasoning. At that point you’re done – do not continue cooking.
SBTs (slow-braised tomatoes) are a gift from the gods, like preserved lemons. We never make less than double the quantity in this recipe and we keep them in their olive oil in the fridge. We could just leave them on a counter, but they’ll keep longer in the fridge. (Hello: Grilled bluefish or mackerel slathered with SBTs; or small chewy pasta with a dollop of SBTs – instant great dinner). The recipe calls for cherry tomatoes. We used a variety of small tomatoes that were available at the farmer’s market. Bear in mind if they vary too much in size the texture of the braised tomatoes will not be consistent.
Mayonnaise deserves its own post and maybe we’ll do one someday. We usually make mayonnaise by hand. For convenience, we made it in a blender. I would have made it by hand, but I’ve learned that when Jody’s in the middle of preparing a recipe and I’m photographing the process is not a good time to suggest alternative strategies. Making mayonnaise in a blender is childsplay, plus Jody demonstrates that if you leave an opening between the lid and the small center cap you can add the oil without splattering yourself. We wanted this mayo to be more like a sauce that could be drizzled on crusty bread or over the clams rather than what comes out of a commercial jar. If you want your mayo thicker, make it by hand, using just a yolk, or make it in a food processor, which tends to produce a thicker result. Make the mayonnaise!
A bit of littleneck trivia: if you come across a clam with a zizag pattern like an electrocardiograph on the outside of its shell, it’s a hybrid aquaculture clam. It’s more visible when the clamshell is wet. Not all aquaculture clams have this pattern however, so the absence of the pattern is not unimpeachable evidence that the clam is wild. No judgment, just an observation. Both can be delicious.
Steamed Littleneck Clams, Slow-Braised Tomatoes, White Beans and Garlic Scape Aioli
Ingredients – the Beans
- ½ pound dried white beans (about 2 cups of cooked beans, or 1 15 oz. can)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion cut into large chunks
- 1 stalk celery, cut into large chunks
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 sprig thyme (optional – but desirable – in these days of restricted shopping)
- THE NIGHT BEFORE pick through the beans to remove any stones. Rinse.
- Put into a bowl, cover with water, and refrigerate overnight.
- Drain the beans.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add the drained beans, bay leaves and thyme. Cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until tender, 2- 2 ½ hours.
- Turn up the heat and cook until most of the water has evaporated.
- Remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper.
Ingredients – Slow-Braised Tomatoes
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus approximately another ½ cup for roasting
- 1 large red onion, cut into ½-inch dice, or equivalent of a bunch of small onions
- 6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 2 pints ripe cherry tomatoes, if they’re large, cut in half or quarters
- 18 basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- 1-2 teaspoons sugar–depending on how sweet the tomatoes are
- Preheat oven to 250°.
- Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; add the basil leaves and hot red pepper flakes and stir well.
- Rinse and dry the tomatoes and put into a roasting pan with sides. The pan should be large enough to hold the tomatoes in a single layer. If they won’t fit, use an additional roasting pan and more olive oil.
- Toss with a teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons sugar.
- Spoon the onion mixture over the tomatoes. Add enough additional olive oil to come halfway up the tomatoes, about ½ cup, depending on the size of the pan.
- Roast until the tomatoes are tender, but not falling apart, about 2 hours. Stir once, gently, during the roasting.
- When cool, drain the juices from the tomatoes and put in a glass measuring cup. Pour off as much oil as you can, about ½ cup, and reserve for the aioli. Save the remaining juices to cook the clams.
Ingredients – Garlic Scape Aioli
- 1 garlic scape, if you can’t get them, use 1 or 2 garlic cloves
- 1 whole egg
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil–from the tomatoes if possible
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Remove the scraggly top from the scape. Save for garnish.
- Cut the ropey part into ¼ -inch pieces. You should have about 3 tablespoons. Use more if you like garlic!
- Put the chopped scape into the blender with the egg, lemon juice and mustard and puree.
- If you can’t get scapes, grate one or two cloves of garlic, depending on the size, into the blender with the egg mixture. Puree.
- With the motor on, and the little top off-set slightly, add the oils in a slow steady steam to the top to form an emulsion. If you take the little black top off, the contents of the blender will spray up and out of the blender.
- Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Ingredients – Littleneck Clams
- 32 littleneck clams
- 1 recipe slow braised tomatoes
- 1 recipe cooked beans
- 1 recipe garlic scape aioli
- ¼ cup parsley leaves
- ¼ cup basil leaves
- Scrub the clams.
- Discard any clams that remain open when tapped. They are dead.
- Heat the reserved tomato juices and beans together in a big pot.
- Add the clams, and 1 cup water, cover and cook over medium heat until the clams just start to open. Add the tomatoes, cover and cook until they have opened completely.
- You will probably have to take the clams out one by one and transfer to a bowl as they won’t all open at the same time. Add additional water as needed.
- Discard any clams that don’t open. They are dead.
- Once all the clams are out of the pan, add the herbs, toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Spoon some of the beans into the bottom of each bowl. Add the clams and spoon a little more of the bean mix over the clams.
- Serve with aioli and crusty bread on the side.
The other day, I was reading through an interview I did years ago for the James Beard Foundation and in it, predictably, I was asked what my last dinner would be. I described this dish.
I was cooking clams, beans and slow-braised tomatoes at my first chef job, Michela’s, 28 years ago and I vividly remember ending a long crazy night at the end of the bar at midnight, with a glass of Vermentino and a big bowl of clams. The best part was soaking up the last of the juices with crusty bread smeared with aioli. A customer sitting near me, who was smoking a cigarette – it was that long ago – leaned over and asked why I would choose clams when I could have anything I wanted from the menu. I thought, “Is that even a question?” And instead of saying it out loud, I just offered him a clam. He tasted it, looked at me, and nodded.