For Valentine’s Day this year, I made two things Greg has always requested, but I’ve never made: clam chowder and popovers. As natives of CT and MA, of course I am referring to New England clam chowder. Chowder reminds me of being a kid and visiting my cousin in Rockport every summer with my grandparents. My uncle would take us to all the freshest seafood spots, and we would sit on the docks eating chowder, steamers, lobster, and corn on the cob. Greg’s favorite chowder was at Top of the Hub in Boston, where he worked for a few years in college.
For my first attempt at making chowder, I once again relied on the expertise of Cook’s Illustrated, with a few slight modifications. I wanted a chowder with a rich, silky broth that wasn’t at all gummy. Cook’s Illustrated uses flour, rather than cornstarch or breadcrumbs, and achieves this beautifully. Most recipes call for cherrystone clams, but I used littlenecks which are about the same size. Other changes I made to the recipe: I added garlic and celery, used Yukon Golds instead of red potatoes, and chives instead of parsley as the garnish. Since this soup only contains a few ingredients, it’s important that they are all top-notch; fresh clams, good bacon and clam juice. I was surprised how quick and simple it was to pull together. The popovers I made alongside also came from The New Best Recipe. They were lightly crisp and golden on the outside, with an airy center, webbed with dough. So good!
New England Clam Chowder
3 lbs medium hard-shelled clams, such as cherrystones or littlenecks, washed and scrubbed clean
3 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 large Spanish onion, diced
1 celery stalk, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tblsp all-purpose flour
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 large bay leaf
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 or 2 cups good-quality bottle clam juice, such as Bar Harbor
3/4 cup heavy cream
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Bring 1.5 cups water to a boil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add the clams and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook for 5 minutes, uncover and stir with a wooden spoon. Quickly cover the pot and steam until the clams just open, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the clams to a large bowl; cool slightly. Discard any that didn’t open. Open the clams with a pairing knife, holding the clams over a bowl to catch any juices. With a knife, sever the muscle that attached the clam to the shell and transfer the meat to a cutting board. Discard the shells. Chop the clams; set aside. Pout the clam broth into a pyrex measuring cup, holding back the last few tablespoons of broth to avoid the sediment; set the clam broth aside. You should have about 2 cups. Rinse and dry the Dutch oven and return to the burner.
2. Fry the bacon in the empty pot over medium-low heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir unlit lightly colored, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the reserved clam broth and 2 cups bottled clam juice. Add the potatoes, bay leaf, and thyme and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved chopped clams, the cream, and salt (if necessary) and pepper to taste; bring to a simmer, but do not boil. Remove from heat, discard the bay leaf, garnish with chopped chives and serve immediately.
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tblsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tblsp vegetable oil
1. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk until well combined, about 20 seconds. Whisk the flour and salt in a medium bowl and add to the egg mixture; stir with a wooden spoon or spatula just until the flour is incorporated; the mixture will still be lumpy. Add the melted butter. Whisk until the batter is bubbly and smooth, about 30 seconds. Let the batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
2. While the batter is resting, measure 1/2 tsp vegetable oil into each cup of a popover pan. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place the popover pan in the oven and heat to 450 degrees. After the batter has rested, pour it into a 4-cup liquid measuring cup or another container with a spout (you will have about 2 cups batter.) Working quickly, remove the pan from the oven and distribute the batter evenly among the 6 cups in the pan. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, without opening the oven door. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake until golden brown all over, 15 to 18 minutes more. Invert the pan onto a wire rack to remove the popovers and cool for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.
Bon Appetit calls this soup “elegant” and I would have to agree. It’s flavor is the pure essence of cauliflower (and butter), and it has a silky, creamy texture. The chive oil splashes a pop of lime green color on the white surface. It makes a perfect winter dinner with a green salad alongside.
Instead of boiling the cauliflower, this recipe slow-roasts it to deepen the flavor. I cut down on the butter by a few tablespoons, though there’s still quite a bit of butter in this soup. The original recipe also has instructions to make rye crostini or pumpernickel croutons: brush slices of Finnish rye bread (or toss cubes of pumpernickel bread) with olive oil. Toss with rosemary sprigs. Bake at 400 degrees until crisp, about 12 minutes. I found these little rye toasts at Trader Joe’s instead.
Cauliflower Soup with Chive Oil
Makes 8 servings
For Chive Oil:
2 1-ounce bunches chives
3/4 cup olive oil
1 large head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds), leaves discarded
8 tblsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, divided
1 large onion, minced
1/4 cup heavy cream
1. For Chive Oil: Set a coffee filter in a glass; set aside. Blanch chives in a medium saucepan of salted water. Transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool. Squeeze chives dry; coarsely chop and place in a food processor. Add 3/4 cup oil, puree until smooth. Pour through coffee filter, let drain for 3 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator (do not press on solids). Bring to room temperature before using.
2. For Soup: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place whole cauliflower head in a large baking dish, rub with 4 tblsp butter, and season generously with salt. Add 1/2 cup water to dish. Bake uncovered, tenting with foil when it begins to brown, until a knife inserted in the core meets no resistance, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven; let cool. Coarsely chop and set aside.
3. Melt 2 tblsp butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add cauliflower and 4 cups water. Simmer until cauliflower is very soft, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly. Working in batches, puree in a blender until very smooth.
4. Return soup to pot and bring to a simmer, thinning out with more water if too thick. Season with salt. Remove from heat and whisk in remaining 2 tblsp butter and cream. Serve warm in shallow bowls. Rest crostini on edge of bowl, or scatter croutons over. Drizzle with chive oil.
Like most Italians, my husband grew up eating his Noni’s Pasta Fagioli, aka “pasta and beans.” No doubt, you’ve heard its colloquial name, “Pasta Fazool”… Southern Italians have a habit of dropping the final vowel.