Quahogs, Stuffed Italian
Isaac emails a request from Dar es Salaam. He is curious as to the origin of a Thanksgiving culinary tradition in our family. I prepare baked stuffed clams with an Italian flavor as hors d'oeurves.
It began in 1980 with a newspaper article, and is the consequence of guilt, a fondness for the hard shell bivalve, a comparable fondness for Italian cuisine, and a New England religious justification for the clam's eminence on this holiday.
First, the guilt. Barbara had begun work as a public schoolteacher in Brooklyn. In gratitude and from a sense of guilt that she would not only be working but doing most of the housework for a family with three children, I concluded it would only be fair for me to learn how to cook. Growing up on Stamford CT's West Side, filled with Italian-American families and salumerias, I chose to develop the aromas and tastes that emanated from neighbors' homes. Not for me the Yankee substitute of tomato soup for spaghetti gravy.
Therefore, I was well on my way into Rome and Tuscany when I came across an article in the June 15, 1980 issue of The New York Times Sunday Magazine by Pierre Franey and Craig Claiborne celebrating the quahog's several savory incarnations, especially (for me) the stuffed clams with prosciutto, garlic, basil, hot pepper, olive oil and (need I list any more Mediterranean delights?) parmesan cheese.
The following fourth Thursday in November I prepared forty clams as the family's pre-turkey appetizer. The next year I wasn't asked to prepare them again; I was told to do just that! Thirty-six years later I'm still at it.
I've shared the excess half shells with others, not kin, from time to time: Ned and Anne Mahoney; David and Lydia Mahoney; Nancy Quinn (who cooked chowder for a Jones Beach concession); Tappy's groomer; the United Methodist Men of Grace Church; The verdict has been unanimous: "More!"
Sometimes I would present them with an ecclesiastical explanation, that the first Thanksgiving proclamation, by Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Bay Colony, specifically lists clams as cause for thanks to Almighty God. Here's the text, which is, I confess, more afterthought than forethought.
Less excusable, however, is another essay on this website devoted to baked stuffed clams. Just when and where I discovered this attribution is lost in the fog of an old man's memory; but the posting does provide helpful illustrations on opening the clams: http://cc2017.jamesconte.com/article/personal-matters/ye-clams-le-cirque.
I can provide you with the original recipe from the Times. As with any recipe repeated frequently, I am now less precise than at the beginning with the ingredients' measures. I prefer middle necks to cherrystones; they're bigger. I aim to make forty not twenty-four and increase ingredients accordingly.
There is a whole 'nother story to this November endeavor. The stuffed clams, all of which are opened by hand, net me a pint or two of nectar. That consequence has led me to make Manhattan Clam Chowder (which is virtually non-existent in New England), enriched greatly by the nectar, a week or two later. Which could lead, but won't, to a description of the origin of the Christmas Concert Soup and Sandwich Supper at Grace Church, at which the chowder, five or six gallons of it, was consumed annually in its entirety. Save that story for another day.