A bowl of corn and clam chowder with zucchini and herbs, served with a dollop of crème fra"che and a squeeze of lime juice, in New York, Aug. 22, 2017. This recipe draws inspiration from a Tuscan vegetable soup. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times) - Bulletin
A bowl of corn and clam chowder with zucchini and herbs, served with a dollop of crème fra"che and a squeeze of lime juice, in New York, Aug. 22, 2017. This recipe draws inspiration from a Tuscan vegetable soup. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times)
A traditional chowder of corn, potatoes and clams is like a clambake in a bowl, minus the lobster. Everything bobs about in a delicious broth, highlighting the sweetness of each ingredient.
Now, some purists may say corn isn’t traditional, because you can add it only in the summertime. But I’m pretty sure most people don’t mind, as recipes for clam chowder with corn are widely found.
The humble building blocks for many clam chowders are salt pork (or bacon), potatoes and milk — inexpensive ingredients that any New England cook would have on hand — and, of course, clams.
Whether digging their own or buying them, most people use briny, flavorful quahog clams. Large and meaty, they come only four or five to the pound, and must be chopped. Cherrystones are somewhat smaller and also make good soup. For the most elegant, delicate chowder, use littlenecks, which are small and tender enough to eat whole. Steam your own, if possible, or buy chopped clams from the fishmonger. (If canned clams are your only best option, so be it.)
For milk-based Cape Cod and Boston-type white chowder, you either thicken the soup or you don’t. In Manhattan chowder, you would use tomatoes, not milk, while Rhode Island chowder is strictly brothy.
Traditionalists should read no further. My corn and clam chowder has a somewhat Italian slant: It employs polenta and zucchini and tastes like summer — bright, spectacular, golden and fleeting.
My approach stems from a Tuscan vegetable soup I know that uses a small handful of polenta to thicken the broth just slightly. I added a little polenta to my brothy corn and clam soup toward the same end and to reinforce the corn flavor. In a way, you could think of clam chowder as a vegetable soup with clams, so adding market-fresh zucchini makes sense, right?
Perhaps I haven’t the right to call it chowder, though I wasn’t aiming for a correct chowder so much as a tasty one. I may as well confess to further transgressions. No bacon.
Instead, I give it a dollop of not-very-Italian creme fraiche, a squeeze of lime and dash of crushed red pepper.
This soup may not recall childhood memories of chowder, but it is comforting nonetheless.
Corn and Clam Chowder With Zucchini and Herbs
Total time: 1 1/2 hours
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
8 lbs chowder clams in the shell, scrubbed, (about 30 pieces), or substitute 1 lb chopped fresh clams (about 3 C)
2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
2 C diced onion
1 C diced celery
Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 tsp chopped thyme
1⁄2 C med yellow polenta (not fine)
4 C water or chicken broth
4 C clam broth, more as necessary
3 C cubed potato, preferably yellow-fleshed, like Yukon Gold
3 C corn kernels, from about 4 ears
4 C cubed zucchini or other summer squash
2 limes, halved
6 to 8 TBS creme fraiche or sour cream
3 TBS parsley
1 TBS fresh oregano or marjoram
Set up a clam steamer, or put about 2 inches of water in a large pot with a lid, place over high heat and bring to a boil.
Steam open clams over high heat, covered. Large clams will take about 12 minutes. When cool, shuck the clams. Strain and reserve all clam broth, leaving any sand or grit in the bottom of the pot. Chop meat roughly and set aside. To save time, do this step in advance. (If using chopped clams, skip Step 1 and 2.)
Put olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and celery, season generously with salt and pepper and cook until softened, 5 to 8 minutes.
Add garlic, red pepper and thyme. Stir and let sizzle briefly, then add polenta and stir to coat. Gradually add the water, stirring constantly with a wire whisk as mixture begins to thicken, then add clam broth and bring to a boil. It should now look brothy and just barely thickened.
Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, until polenta grains have softened.
Add potatoes to pot and simmer until just done, 12 to 15 minutes. Taste soup and adjust seasoning. Add more clam broth, if necessary.
Add corn and zucchini and simmer 5 minutes until zucchini is tender. Add chopped clams and cook 2 minutes more.
To serve, ladle soup into individual bowls. Squeeze some lime juice into each portion and top with a dollop of creme fraiche. Sprinkle with parsley and oregano.