I used to say that Spring was my favorite season, as tulips and daffodils herald a rebirth of beauty, and trees burst out in flowery excess. But every year when summer rolls around, I start to rethink that. Summer's the time of year for Jersey's best produce -- luscious tomatoes, fragrant peaches and sweet corn; for lazy days at the shore; for catching up on the latest bestseller; and for grilling clams and mussels. I know clams and mussels are available all year long, and I can even use my gas grill during the winter (provided I don't mind braving the cold out there on the deck).
But when the weather's hot and you have a hankering for clams and mussels, and don't want to heat up the kitchen, there's no easier way to satisfy that craving than to fire up the grill. Save yourself the cleanup too, by using a disposal aluminum pan (ok, I always wash it out and reuse it to be environmentally friendly, but if you toss yours, I won't send the recycling police to your place.) Just pour a little olive oil and dry white wine around the shellfish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, chopped parsley, a LOT of garlic and a few red hot chili peppers.
Close the lid to the grill and wait for about 15-20 minutes. The shells will all start to pop open and you can sit down to eat right after that. Don't overcook or they'll get rubbery.
You can cook up some pasta to go along with it if you like. But I like eating the shellfish with grilled or toasted bread, smeared with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, just like I had recently overlooking the Ionian Sea in Gallipoli, Italy. It's usually called mussels and clams sauté on menus there. If you can find those tiny cockle-like clams in the U.S., good for you. Otherwise, I use littleneck clams, the smallest available most of the time where I live.
Whenever I'm in Rome, I always order mussels and clams sauté as my first course in my favorite restaurant there - Le Mani in Pasta. They throw in a few shrimp and squid pieces too.
Grill the bread pieces before you cook the shellfish, and you can smear them with a little raw garlic and olive oil while you're waiting for the shells to open. Serve on a large, deep platter, accompanied by some more dry white wine - preferably the same wine you used to cook the shellfish.
In this case, I used a California chardonnay called "Clambake," sent to me by its producers, Ripe Life Wines. The company was founded by a Jersey Shore native, Mary McAuley, who's a culinary school graduate and sommelier. So she knows a thing or two about pairing wines with foods. This one, with its great balance of floral and citrus notes, was perfect with the mussels and clams. If you're having a full-on clambake (click here for a great Jersey Shore clambake recipe), you'll want to serve this wine if it's available near you. You can buy it at stores in New York, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Click here for a list of stores.
Oh, I almost forgot - You can now follow what Ciao Chow Linda is up to on Instagram. Lots more food and other photos there. So swing on over to here and take a look.
Grilled Mussels and Clams
1 bag of clams (about three dozen - preferably littleneck clams)
1 bag of mussels (about three to four dozen)
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
at least six to eight large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 or 3 small, hot, dried chili peppers (peperoncini)
1 loaf of good French or Italian bread, sliced and grilled
more garlic pieces and olive oil to smear on the bread
Preheat your grill and toast the bread. While the shellfish is cooking, smear a little raw garlic and olive oil on the slices.
Clean the shellfish by washing them in cold water thoroughly to try to remove any traces of sand. Throw out any shells that are already open. Place the mussels and clams in a large aluminum container that fits your grill. Then pour in the wine and olive oil. Add the garlic, parsley, chili peppers, salt and pepper. Place on the grill and close the lid. Toss it all together. Wait about 15 minutes and check. It may take another five minutes or so for most of the shells to open. There will be some stragglers, but remove the ones that are open and leave the others to pop open while you're eating. Place the shellfish in a large, deep bowl with the juices from the pan, and surround it with the grilled bread.