Holiday Recipe: Baked clams oreganata

This baked clams oreganata recipe is a delicious Italian twist to your holiday meal. You can serve them as an appetizer during cocktails or as a first course to your meal. Best of all, they can be prepared earlier in the day and baked just before serving.

For some reason, my friends tend to shy away from cooking seafood. But this recipe is easy, requires no special equipment or technique and if I can do it, you can do it!

The Inspiration: These little guys are fresh out of my good friend’s oven on a recent trip to Bridgehampton, NY.

For this recipe, I like using littleneck clams or quahog clams (which have a bigger shell.) Make sure you get clams that are as fresh as possible! If you are in New England, you know where to get ’em. For my Las Vegas and land-locked friends, make sure you go to a seafood specialty shop or a supermarket such as Whole Foods.

Littleneck, quahog, cherrystone, count neck—What’s the difference?

These are all quahog clams. The different names refer to the size of the clam.

  • Littleneck: These little guys are the smallest clams of the bunch, approximately 8 – 11 clams per pound.
  • Cherrystone: These clams are a little larger, approximately 6 – 9 clams per pound.
  • Count neck: These guys get big! There are approximately 4-5 clams per pound.
  • Quahog: These are great for chowders and are approximately 3 – 4 clams per pound.

The littleneck and cherrystone clams are best for recipes like linguine with white clam sauce, cioppino or just steamed in white wine and garlic. Any of these guys would be good for stuffing. Obviously, the quahogs and count necks (sometimes called “top necks”) have the most room in the shell for stuffing.

The Recipe: These baked clams have a toasted top, but inside the stuffing and clams are moist, garlicky and delicious.

For this recipe, I find people eat about four count neck clams each as a starter—so plan accordingly.

Clams oreganata

Yield: Four servings.
Ingredients:
1 dozen count neck or quahog clams
1 cup Italian bread crumbs (you can also use plain bread crumbs and add a dash of Italian seasoning)
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped
2 Tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (adjust accordingly if you like or don’t like spice!)
3 cloves garlic, minced (If you like garlic, there’s no harm in adding another clove or three)
2 teaspoons lemon zest
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup good quality chicken stock (homemade is best, but good quality store-bought also works.)
Salt and pepper
1 lemon, cut into wedges.

To clean the clams: Place the clams in a bowl filled with cool water. Let the clams sit for 30 minutes (they will drink in the clean water and spit out sand.) Remove a clam from the bowl and crub with a stiff potato brush (I like this one from Cheffy) and rinse. You also want to remove the beard by the clam hinge by pulling it off.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Pat each clam dry and set on a sheet pan. Cook clams in the oven for three minutes, just until the clams are beginning to open—about a half-inch. Remove and let clams cool.
Once cool, gently pry the clams open (do NOT do this with a sharp knife. A butter knife or even a spoon works.) Use the butter knife to gently detach the clam from the shell, but keep it in the half shell. You can discard the vacant half of the shell or use it for decoration in this dish.

To make the filling: In a medium bowl, mix bread crumbs, oregano, parsley, red pepper, garlic, olive oil, lemon zest and the juice from one or two lemon wedges (to taste.) Add the chicken stock a little at the time until the mixture clumps up. You can also do this in a food processor.
Stuff the clams with the stuffing mixture (it doesn’t expand, so it can be heaping.)
Bake for 10 minutes on 450 degrees until the outside is crispy and browned.

Serve hot with extra lemon wedges and enjoy!

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