On Eating and Loving Food

Clams casino, a CIA graduate, a box o’ wine, and twins

Clams casino were popular before my time. Just kidding.
Posted:  Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 9:15am
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Have you ever had clams casino? Have you ever even heard of them?

They’re one of those things that were on every restaurant menu in the ’70s, but that was way before my time :-0

My friends, Andy and Adele Bielli, had them a couple weeks ago, and they claim they were fabulous. It may have something to do with the guy who cooked them for them. Their friend, Peter Ross, is the chef at Vermont Academy, and a graduate of the CIA (Culinary Institute of America).

Do you know Andy and Adele? They're identical twins. I've gotten some mileage out of them in the 10 or so years I've known them. I did a story about them a while back, and it got over 7,000 hits. 7,085 to be exact. I just looked. The story, about their days modeling in NYC, and their stint as the Doublemint Twins, was interesting, but it was the photo that ran with it that drew all the hits. Check it out here.

While we're off the subject of food I'll tell you a little story that may or may not make it into the memoir. My first husband, Stan, surprised me one day a few years ago when he showed up at the Boothbay Register. I hadn't seen him in like 35 years. We chatted for a while, mostly about his life on sailboats sailing around the Caribbean, and the world. (My life is pretty boring in comparison.) Then he said he wanted to go into town to see an old friend.

I thought for a few seconds, and said, “Andy or Adele?” It was a wild guess.

He was a little taken aback, “Adele,” he said. “You know her?”

Um, yeah.

Of course, I insisted on going with him. He walked into Slick's, and Adele, who hadn't seen him in practically as many years as I, was as surprised to see him as I'd been. After a minute or so, Stan said, “By the way, have you met my ex-wife?” I smiled and waved. They had met on St. Barts, V.I., when they both lived there in the early ’80s. Small world.

So where were we. Oh yeah. Clams Casino.

Okay. On Feb. 24 the twins showed up at Peter's place in Saxons River, Vermont, with 24 cherrystones, Andy's bestie, Ben the cat, and a big box of pino grigio, and Peter set out to prepare clams casino. Andy kept me posted on the progress, through texts and a few pics, including one of Adele's shocked face when Peter cut his hand open on a clam shell, and a closeup of his bandaged hand.

Clams casino is a classic New England dish. Either cherrystones or little neck clams are acceptable. Though the dish varies in preparation, most agree on three basic ingredients: bacon, breadcrumbs and butter. Some add scallions, lemon juice, sweet peppers, Worcestershire sauce, and/or Parmesan cheese. Tabasco sauce and parsley are also options. The clams are broiled, in the half shell, till golden brown. How bad can anything topped with golden brown buttery breadcrumbs and a piece of bacon be? With a glass of chardonnay, of course.

Clams casino presumably originated in 1917 in a place called the Little Casino in Narragansett, Rhode Island. It’s is often found in Italian restaurants and trattorias.

Last Friday I picked up a dozen littlenecks at Pinkhams, went home, made a manhattan (duh), and set out to make my own clams casino. I had talked to Boothbay Harbor restaurateur Ralph Smith earlier. He’s been serving clams casino at his restaurants for 20 years. He told me about his preparation of them, between showing me photos of his new baby, little Ralph. The new dad is, of course, enamored of the adorable little feller.

Then I started texting Sue Mello and Jon Lewis, as they’re both great cooks, and Sue, a Massachusetts native, has had them all her life. “Those with a gin and tonic on a Cape Cod summer afternoon ... that’s heaven,” she said. Sue makes hers with Ritz crackers, melted butter, lemon, Worcestershire, and a little white wine. And bacon on top! I think that bacon on top is the one thing you’ll find on every clam casino, everywhere.

So between the texts from them and the twins, and Ralph’s expertise, and a manhattan (and a half – it was rather time-intensive) I did it! And they were fabulous!

Sue told me to either stick the clams in a hot oven, or steam them in a little water, until they open. Then remove the top shell, and cut the clam from the bottom shell, so it comes out easily with all that crumbly stuff on top. For my crumbly stuff I used breadcrumbs, scallions, butter, lemon, Parmesan and parsley. I topped each with a small piece of bacon and broiled them for around six minutes.

Then I made a big, beautiful salad and poured a glass of chardonnay and watched “Bates Motel” while I ate. And drank.

And by the way, the twins’ friend, Peter, sent me a pic of them in animal print cozies. “Thank god they were in different ‘cozies,’” he said. “After a box o wine who knew who was who!”

See ya next week!