Let’s Cook: All You Need Is Clams
by Alison Boyd & William Sertl
Almost all. You also need bacon, breadcrumbs, and a little lemon. A little love doesn’t hurt, either. And in many areas, you must have a town permit to clam.
With those boxes checked, we head off to Towd Point, clam rake sticking out of Patty and Danny’s car, leading the way from their home, just a few miles away, to a tiny beach on Peconic Bay not far from where the Town of Southampton was settled.
Dan Zelinski, who grew up in Cutchogue, has been clamming forever, but it was his father-in-law, Ben Marcune, who knew how to turn baskets of clams into briny snacks that disappeared as fast as he could make them. “He got me addicted,” Danny says, “Ben and I would go out all day and come back with a trunk full of clams. Dad would slice up the bacon, pop them in the oven, and keep them coming out like an assembly line until I was too stuffed to eat any more, or anything else.”
Patty Marcune grew up in Brooklyn and summered with her family in Southampton. She met Danny decades ago. After they married in 1974, they bought their own house in North Sea, where she eventually took over as Clammander-in-Chief. It’s a classic East End matchup: Polish-Italian; North Fork-South Fork; a perfect union, blessed by the sandy beaches that ring the Peconic Bay.
“This is the best day of the summer,” says Patty, who taught kindergarten in Southampton until she retired. She’s right. No humidity. No clouds. Lots of good beach vibes.
“The tide’s a little high for clamming,” says Danny, who worked most of his life as a postman, also in Southampton, “but it’ll be okay.”
He wades into the water, rake in one hand, a bucket in the other. The rest of us ease into the water, as Danny drifts away to calmer shores. Nearby, a kid proudly displays his cache of spider crabs, but releases them after we convince him they’re not for eating. We float in the gentle pool Mother Nature carved out for us, gazing skyward in praise of blue sky and sunshine, sorry for the poor souls stuck in their cement ponds that yield nothing but chlorine.
In a while, Danny’s back with a load of Little Necks and Cherrystones and an all-hands call to pack up towels and get back home for lunch. We could have—and maybe would have—filled up on Clams Casino, like Danny used to do when Ben was cranking them out. But Patty cries “enough” after the third round and sweeps the plates away. “There’s linguine on its way.” Linguine with clams, set on a table with a loaf of bread to soak up the doctored brine from clams only recently locked up in the shallow waters of the Bay.
A toast seals the deal: To friendship and wine and lunch under an umbrella on the most beautiful day of the year. Omnia vincit clamor, now and forever.
Make as many clams as you can get into the trunk of your car, stock-piling the other ingredients as necessary. If harvesting your own clams, save the larger Cherrystones for the next recipe.
Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs
Fresh lemon juice
Bacon, cut into small pieces
Lay open half shells facing up on a rimmed baking sheet, side-by-side without crowding. Try to retain as much brine as possible when opening the clams and spoon it all over the clams before adding toppings. Sprinkle each clam lightly with breadcrumbs, add a healthy squeeze of lemon, and drizzle with canola oil. Place baking sheet under broiler until clams lightly brown (keeping a close eye so they do not overcook). Remove from broiler and place bacon piece on each clam before returning to broiler to cook until bacon is crisp. To serve, place a few clams on small plates and spoon over cooking juices.
Linguine with Clams
We were amazed how much Patty’s recipe resembles our own, which yields an oil-rich broth that tastes almost like butter. Speaking of which, you must serve some good Italian bread or a baguette on the side to soak up the “buttery” brine. (P.S. Patty does add butter at the end.) And whatever you do, don’t lose the brine, especially important if you’re having someone else shuck the clams.
I lb linguine
3 Tbs olive oil
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
2-3 dozen Cherrystone clams (brine reserved)
1 tsp crushed Italian red-pepper flakes
2 Tbs butter
Add linguine to a large pot of boiling salted water and cook until al dente. Add oil, garlic and parsley to pan and saute over low heat for a couple of minutes being careful not to let garlic brown. Add the reserved brine and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Add pepper flakes and clams and cook until clams are heated through, about 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in butter until melted. Drain pasta and combine with clam sauce in a large pre-heated serving bowl. Add extra parsley for garnish.
Tomato and Basil Salad
Break out the best oil you’ve got, maybe the stuff your relatives brought back from Tuscany last year. In this salad, it will make a difference.
Heirloom tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Basil, a generous amount of coarsely chopped leaves (plus a handful of whole leaves to garnish before serving)
A sprinkle of sea salt.
Mix all ingredients in a serving bowl and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with whole basil leaves.
NEXT MONTH: Eat your late-summer vegetables — an antipasti of East End tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini.
Alison Boyd ran a catering business in her native London before working as a private chef in Bridgehampton. She has since decamped to the North Fork where she cooks frequently with William Sertl, Culture Editor of the Beacon and former travel editor of Saveur and Gourmet magazines. Every Thursday, before their spouses arrive for the weekend, they dine out and plot their next home-cooked meal.