By Barbara Beltrami
We are so lucky. It’s summer and we live on Long Island and if there’s one thing we’re known for it’s our miles and miles of beaches skirting the Atlantic Ocean, the Long Island Sound and several bays in between. To spend a day “by the sea, by the beautiful sea,” to play in the sand and surf, and then to dine on its bounty is the essence of summer for us.
When we’re exhilarated and exhausted by the salt air and sunshine, nothing makes a more perfect ending to the day than tucking into a seafood dinner. Of course, it must start off with freshly shucked, ice cold clams and oysters, and if a good sea breeze is kicking up, a bowl of chunky chowder keeps everyone happy until the steamers and mussels have relinquished themselves to their garlic and wine bath.
But all these briny appetizers are just a tease leading to the main attraction: lobsters grilled to charred succulence accompanied by Long Island spuds, a bowlful of husk-wrapped corn, another bowl of tender young greens from the garden — all chased down, of course, with a Long Island chardonnay or sauvignon blanc.
Then finally, there is the moment when, content with the conviviality of the gathering, sated with the taste of the sea, we sit back, contemplate the sunset, sip a mug of good strong coffee and find room somehow, somewhere, for fresh Long Island strawberry cobbler crowned by dollops of vanilla ice cream.
Steamed Soft-Shell Clams and Mussels in Garlic and White Wine
YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings
8 dozen soft-shell clams, scrubbed
4 dozen mussels, scrubbed
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
6 bruised garlic cloves
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
½ pound unsalted butter, melted
Rinse clams and mussels under cold running water; place in large pot with two cups of water, oil, herbs and wine; steam until shells open, 6 to 8 minutes. Discard any whose shells don’t open. With slotted spoon remove clams and mussels from broth and divide evenly among individual soup bowls; discard herbs. Strain broth through a sieve or cheesecloth and pour into individual bowls or cups. Serve clams, mussels and broth immediately with melted butter for dipping.
Clam and Garden Vegetable Chowder
YIELD: Makes 10 to 12 servings
2 quarts freshly shucked clams in liquor
½ pound diced bacon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 large celery rib, cleaned and diced
1 fennel bulb, cleaned and diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
5 medium potatoes, scrubbed and diced
One 28-ounce can diced Italian plum tomatoes with their juice
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Drain and reserve liquor from clams; rinse clams in cold water, chop and set aside. Strain liquor through fine sieve or cheesecloth; set aside.
In a large pot, cook bacon pieces until crisp; remove and drain on paper towels; add olive oil to bacon fat, then onions, pepper, zucchini, celery, fennel, carrots and potatoes; stir to coat thoroughly and cook, stirring frequently until fat and oil are absorbed and vegetables have started to change color and consistency, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Add tomatoes with their juice and enough water to cover veggies; cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until veggies are tender, about one hour. Add bacon, clams and their liquid, herbs and seasoning; cook until just heated through, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately with oyster crackers.