Saturday, December 19, 2009

Caesar's Clams

In the 1970's, my mom attended a classic French cooking school called Dumas Pere. During these classes, several of the students joined together to form a gourmet dinner party group. As an infant, I was allowed to attend these parties; I have a little chuckle each time I see the picture of my dad holding a bulbous Bordeaux glass up to my tiny newborn nose so that I might appreciate the aromas of what I am sure must have been a very elegant wine. As I got older -- read more annoying -- I usually watched T.V. upstairs and came down only to sample desserts. Desserts were always my favorite part -- occasionally, I would wait until the next day to wolf down the leftover cake or tart as my breakfast before anyone else was awake. Eventually, I began to take more interest in their soirées. I even tried to replicate a fancy dinner for my parents as a surprise when they had left me home to babysit my brother. Oh, I do pity them for having to smile and choke down whatever atrocity my 10 year old self managed to throw together. By the time I could really participate in these dinners, the group had shrunk to only four. Luckily, it was my favorite four: my parents plus Jerry and Madelyn.

In their most recent dining adventures, there has been one consistently present dish; Caesar's clams. Caesar, Madelyn's father, created a recipe for baked clams that is at once both simple and exquisite. They served them on Christmas Eve -- just before a big bowl of cioppino. It's classic -- nothing fancy here. Classics endure for a reason. You'll know why if you try it. I made them for our holiday party this week, and they were a hit. So, thank you, Maddy, for years of inspiration and support. And, many, many thanks for sharing your dad's recipe.

If I were to make this recipe, I might change a few things. For example, I like to make and season my own bread crumbs. However, the recipe is just right, just as it is.

2 dozen little neck clams
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs
olive oil, to taste
lemon wedges and parsley sprigs, for garnish
hot sauce, to taste

1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Have on hand a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
2. In a microwave on medium power, heat the clams for 30 seconds or until they begin to open. (You may also do this on the stove in a heavy bottomed sauce pot.) Either way, you don't want to cook the clams, merely open them.
3. Carefully shuck each clam, discarding the top shell and loosening the clam from the bottom shell. Place on the baking sheet.
4. Top each clam with oregano, garlic powder, and bread crumbs.
5. Drizzle the olive oil over the top.
6. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown.
7. Garnish with lemon and parsley. Season with hot sauce, if you like.

These photos are courtesy of my mom. She's pictured on the right; Maddy is on the left.