Thursday, October 7, 2010

Slightly Manhattan Clam Chowder

I promised another recipe tonight, didn't I?  Well, although rehearsal for Arabian Nights went on till eleven, here I sit, flopped on the couch after being unable to contemplate an evening without cooking and therefore wandering into the kitchen and blissfully giving up sleep.

Seriously.  It's kind of embarrassing.  I get a weird kick out of chopping fennel and julienning basil.  I stand in the kitchen for an hour as the boyfriend patiently waits for dinner, shouting back "Yes, I heard that!" as he watches the latest recorded Jon Stewart or Community, and keeps hoping I'm laughing at the latest jokes.  Instead of, you know, doing a quick sauté of vegetables and snuggling up to him and to the cat.  (Oh, priorities.  But y'all, cooking is addictive.)  My mother and I have a very closely knit relationship over food:  on her last visit, we spent a morning on the balcony eating fruit spring rolls with mint and honey while relettering my spice jars to showcase her calligraphy skills.

By the way, I feel like I should explain the label pictured above.  The words "Crushed Red Peppers" are very difficult to translate into calligraphy.  I suggested "Crushed Slightly Orange Peppers", which looked much prettier.  It does make sense.  I swear.

But!  Here we go.  I do realize that the only relation this has to Manhattan clam chowder is the tomatoes, but this is called creativity.  And it worked.  And it's Natalia-Rose detox-friendly:  flesh-based.

Slightly Manhattan Clam Chowder
Serves 4-8 or 1 for two days

1 onion, minced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 large bulb or 1 small bulb fennel, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
4 15-oz cans diced tomatoes, unseasoned (since you don't usually make soup when great tomatoes are in season)
2 cans clams with liquor (or about 18 scrubbed fresh clams; steam them for about 8-10 minutes in a covered pot instead of the 3-4 minutes at the end of step 3.)
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups vegetable broth
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp Herbes de Provence
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1 lemon or lime (preferably lemon, but I've got to use up a whole bag of limes!)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fennel fronds or torn basil leaves, to garnish

1.  Drizzle your largest pot with about a tablespoon of olive oil and turn heat to medium high.  When the oil sputters when you sprinkle it with drops of water, add the onions and some salt and pepper.  Sweat the onions until they turn translucent.

2.  Add the diced carrots, fennel, and garlic, toss, and season with more salt and pepper.  Sweat for a few minutes, then add the diced tomatoes in their juice.  Season with a little more salt and pepper*.  Bring to a slow boil.

3.  Add the clam liquor**, dry white wine, herbes de Provence, red pepper flakes, and the tomato paste, stir, and simmer for about 3-4 minutes.  If you like, you can add about half the mixture to a blender to make a soup with a slightly thicker texture; it makes for a slightly creamy-looking soup without actual cream...

4.  Add the vegetable broth, the lemon or lime juice, and the bay leaf.   Bring to a slow boil and then turn the heat down to low; simmer for 15 minutes.  Add in the clams and simmer for 5 minutes more, then serve, garnished with some fennel fronds or julienned basil leaves.  Also possibly a bit of cracked pepper.  Enjoy!

This soup, too, gets better the longer you allow the flavors to marry.

*The reason for the continual seasoning with salt and pepper is that each ingredient absorbs the seasoning as it cooks, thus giving you more flavor if you add salt and pepper gradually versus adding all at once at the end.
**Not the canned clams, not yet; just open the can almost all the way and keep the lid on to let only the liquor pour out while the clams stay inside.  They will get tough if you add them too soon.

The soup kick will be over soon, I feel.  And it's still warm enough for some truly out-of-this-world guacamole...

Mmmm.  I think I have to go shopping for avocados now.