Thursday, January 7, 2010

Clam Chowder

There's nothing better on a dark January day than a bowl of Clam Chowder and you don't need to don your wellies and go to the beach to dig clams, though I easily could, as I live a few blocks from Porpoise Bay on the Pacific coast. But its easy to make this soup from a tin of clams, and I always have several in my pantry in case the urge moves me. Clam Chowder around here is usually a thick, white concoction such as that served on our ferries--hearty but a tad stodgy. The recipe I use I stole from The Two Fat Ladies years ago, and it has never failed to garner compliments. I even made it once for my Italian relatives on a fall visit to Italy, though it turned out to be quite a production, as once word got around that the Zia from Canada was making a "Canadian" dish for supper that night, about a dozen people turned up. But I had thought that would be the case and I made a large vat. It wasn't hard, and it turned out to be quite a hit.
Just to remind you, the Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa and Jennifer, had a cooking show on the BBC which was carried by the Food channel and by PBS in Seattle, but these were only made from 1996 to 1999. They were hilarious, two upper-class Brits who travelled England by motorcycle, Jennifer driving and Clarissa riding shotgun, both in leather biker's jackets and helmets. They'd go to private schools and abbeys and rugby clubs and cook huge lunches which always seemed to be well-received, though their food was famous for being very rich, if not downright fatty.
Their Clam Chowder, however, is an exception. We all like it. Even the Italians, when they saw me add the white wine, were not averse to trying it.
Two Fat Ladies Clam Chowder
In the bottom of a medium pot put a knob of butter and a drizzle of oil.
Now chop a large white or red onion, a couple of slices of ham (prosciutto cotto) and one ripe tomato from the garden or a couple of whole peeled tomatoes from a can, squished in your hand.
Saute these three ingredients together for a few minutes.
Next we must add the liquid, about 6 - 8 cups. First, add at least one cup of white wine, I probably add two. It should be a fairly sweet wine such as a California Rhine or a Sauterne type, but any white wine you have will be better than none. Now make up the rest of the liquid as you like--water, or chicken stock, or vegetable stock. I use the latter, but very light. Now add cubed raw potatoes, probably 4 or 5 depending on how big they are. Salt to taste, and a bit of black pepper.Bring the soup to the simmer and continue cooking until the potatoes are fork tender. Now add the can of clams, juice and all. You can do the soup to this point hours in advance, it improves with sitting. At the end, put in maybe half a cup or less of skim milk or whatever you have. Sometimes I don't. Bring the heat up before you serve it. Once you've done it you'll see how fast and easy it is (unless you're trying to feed dozens of people). Jolly good, as Clarissa would say.

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