For my first 12 years, until I happily shipped off to sleep away camp in the White Mountains, my family spent the month of July with my grandmother at her summer home down the Cape. My mother, brother and I were the lucky ones that spent the entire month, while my father joined us on the weekends. Someone had to work! Oh those Sunday goodbyes were so sad, watching Dad hop into his caddy to head home. I wonder now what he ate during the week while both his wife and mother were away as he really wasn’t a cook! Funny how I never thought about that until now so many years later.
My grandmother did not drive so she generally travelled with us on day one of the summer. I remember one year when I rode in the front seat, nestled between my mother and grandmother. That car had a banquette front row, anyone remember those? I probably wasn’t even wearing a seatbelt – yikes. I was young enough that when we passed through the town of Sandwich, my mother teased me that we needed to escape before we were eaten.
Our first stop after we dropped our bags was the supermarket where we proceeded to shop with two carts, one almost entirely dedicated to the acquisition of Portuguese bread. If I recall, it was a market named Purity Supreme. Loaves and loaves of this tender, somewhat sweet white bread were loaded into the cart and frozen upon arrival at home in our spare freezer. My grandmother’s dining room was where we ate every meal, properly, and she had a little table, almost like a bar cart as I recall, where a pop-up toaster crisped countless slices of this bread at almost every meal. My guess is that it replaced our traditional “dahn hatz” or cracker bread that we usually had with most meals at home, but the Portuguese bread became synonymous with summer and that magical house.
My brother and I were lucky because there were a million kids that lived right in our neighborhood and we were never bored or alone. My best friend, Meghan lived right across the street and she was lucky enough to have all the Barbies my progressive mother denied me. Next door lived brothers Ronny and Donny who were townies but hung out with us in the summer. I was in love with Ronny but sadly, he never knew it. Our house had a walk-up attic that we used to play in on the occasional rainy day. It got hot, but nobody cared. What a carefree time it was. It was an idyllic way to spend July, living with extended family, goofing around and waiting for the ice cream man every day.
One of the best memories I have is when we would have other cousins come for the weekend. We had a big family and although they had time with grandma in August, we had the largest share of time, so sometimes we had a fuller house on the weekends. I would surrender my bedroom to the guest and bunk up with my grandmother who had two raised twin beds in her room that were covered with the most luxurious quilts that she made herself. They were like what I imagine the weighted blankets that are a bit of a craze must feel like. Underneath them I was protected and secure, listening to the sounds of the ocean just outside our window, next to my grandmother. It makes me so happy thinking back to that time.
As I mentioned, we took every meal together in the dining room, largely because the kitchen was on the small side and didn’t have room for a table that could hold the extended family. Meals were a big deal and there was always an enormous amount of food, especially on the weekends when my father would man the grill. Here’s a picture of him that I posted long ago with his recipe for Jumbo Shrimp with Lemon & Garlic.
I can assure you, there was probably an enormous amount of red meat on the grill that day.
Like you I’m sure, my mind during the pandemic has wandered to all sorts of places. I have traveled down many memory lanes and scrolled through pictures, gazing through windows to a more relaxed time. I can walk my grandmother’s summer house in my head, saunter down to the beach and walk out on the jetty, feel the salty water on my skin. I can hear the ice cream truck, and ride the tandem bike with Meghan where we sadly had a crash. If I think back far enough, I can remember my uncle coming for a visit and heading out early to get some freshly made sugar-raised donuts from Dunkin, a menu item that has gone by the wayside it seems (hey Dunkin, bring those back!).
I can also walk all the steps of my summer camp, from cabin to the dining hall, to the horse stables and Big Dock. I can feel the sweat and the bugs at the riflery range and feel the summer’s first dip into the cold lake waters. My feet remember the beat from our march to raise the flag every morning, and laying out the blanket to sing vespers on Sunday evening. I’m feeling nostalgic writing this, but you know what? It’s bringing me great comfort to remember these truly happy times in my life and giving me hope that we will get back to our regularly scheduled programming sometime, even if we have to wait awhile.
Which leads me to today’s recipe which is really from the deep recesses of my mind. One of our family’s closest friends also lived down the Cape in the summer and we used to visit them a few times over the course of our time there. We used to call the kids our “kissing cousins” because we were like family to each other. One of the mom’s specialties was clams casino that she would make when we visited. For some reason, clams casino popped into my head a few weeks ago and I’ve been wanting to make this dish ever since. As it happens, clams casino supposedly has its origins in the state where I now spend part of my summers, Rhode Island and here’s a story about that.
In case you don’t know what clams casino are, they are basically a clam that has been cooked and then enhanced with breadcrumbs and of course, bacon. There are many different versions I’m sure and since I didn’t have our friend’s recipe, I consulted the internet and relied on one of my favorite publications, Fine Cooking for their version. Oh my, they were scrumptious and I will make them again for sure. Maybe with a touch more bacon or even finely diced pancetta! The nice part about this recipe is that they can be prepared ahead and finished off just before serving.
The first step in making this version of clams casino is to cook the clams which they suggested could be done under the broiler on a sheet pan. I have to admit that I may not repeat this technique but it did work, although a few of the shells virtually exploded from the heat. Next time, I may just throw them in a pot and steam them. It is important to retain some of the cooking liquid that will release from the clams to provide both moisture and flavor so you can’t just throw them on the grill unless they are on a sheet pan I guess.
The next step is a quick saute of some minced shallots (onion will work) and minced red pepper. To that you add some panko breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, freshly cracked black pepper and in my case pecorino romano because I didn’t have parmesan called for in the recipe. I actually like the bite from the pecorino so I may keep that change. No salt necessary because the clams are naturally salty, as is the cheese.
To prepare the clams, you discard one half of the shell and release the clams using a spoon. Moisten them with some reserved clam broth, add the stuffing and pat down and then top them with some slivered bacon. Sometimes you see clams casino with one strip of bacon laying across it, but I like the idea of cutting it up as small as you can as it will cook faster under the broiler. You could even throw it in the microwave for a minute to partially cook it and then add it to the clam so it gets really crispy if you prefer that.
The clams can be prepared up to this point early in the day and then popped under the broiler for 5-7 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.
Who’s going to give these a try? The recipe calls for a dozen littlenecks or cherrystones. I used 14 middlenecks which were larger than a littleneck and smaller than a cherrystone and I thought that was just right. I think the littlenecks would be perfect one-biters, but I might get up to 18. I did buy extra also in case one didn’t open but they were all alive!
Well, that’s my walk down memory lane for today. Recipe for Clams Casino at the very end of the post. Hope you have a happy weekend!
Until next time…