I love the sound shells make when you toss them into a bowl as you work your way through a plate of seafood. It’s a communal thing, a deep bowl in the middle of a table rapidly filling with empties. Could there be a more satisfying clunk?
I find it strange how some people pick at shellfish with a knife and fork. I even know people who use cutlery to deftly skin grilled prawns, first cutting off and discarding the head before sliding the knife around the body to separate it from the shell. Me? I like to tear the head off and suck the prawn's brains out (the best bit!) before tackling the rest with my fingers. In my book, except in the rarest of occasions, if it flies or swims you eat it with your hands. It’s a simple pleasure, holding one half of a clam or a mussel between forefinger and thumb as you slurp at the morsel in the other. It’s messy, noisy and delightful.
I hadn’t cooked clams for ages. I should do it more often because they are a versatile, easy ingredient. My mum has a recipe that uses almonds in a thick sauce but I didn’t have any at home so this time, I was forced to improvise. I think they turned out quite nice, but you tell me.
Clams with green peppers, tomato and wine
Clams (500g), well soaked to get rid of sand
Chopped tomatoes (one large tin, good quality)
Four cloves of garlic
Two small onions
Three small green peppers
One large glass of red wine
Thinly slice the onion, pepper and garlic and gently stir fry in a liberal slug of olive oil until they begin to soften. Add one bayleaf, a level teaspoon of dried oregano and another of paprika, and the wine. Cook on a medium heat until the wine begins to bubble, then add the tomatoes. Keep on a medium heat until the sauce begins to bubble and add half a teaspoon of sugar to cut through the acidity of the tomatoes and the wine. Season to taste but remember the clams are quite salty.
A word about the wine: use a good wine, one you’d be happy to drink. It tastes better than cheap stuff or the leftover dregs of a bottle you didn’t finish the day before, trust me.
Add the clams, mix them in and cook on a medium heat until the shellfish opens up. If any of the clams don’t open, then they are probably dead and should be thrown out. The golden rule with shellfish: if in doubt, chuck it out.
I served this mixed with spaghetti but it would go just as well with some crusty bread.