Zuppa di Vongole
Makes 4 first-course servings
As with so many of my Italian food experiences, I first had this soup in New York. I would never have thought of combining beans and clams, but the association is delicate and intriguing. This recipe includes a fair amount of fresh parsley, which contributes to the freshness of the dish.
Use the smallest clams you can find—Manila clams are my favorite—better yet, tiny New Zealand cockles, which are beginning to appear more regularly in fancy fish markets.
This soup is best finished at the last minute, but the time-consuming part, cooking the beans, can be done a day or two in advance. Whatever you do, don't chop the parsley until just before you add it to the soup or it will lose its freshness.
Borlotti beans (tongues of fire) are popular with Italian cooks because of their rich flavor and creamy consistency, but if you can't find them, use cannellini beans or any small white bean such as Great Northerns.
1 cup dried borlotti, cannellini,
or Great Northern beans, soaked in
water to cover for 3 hours
1 bouquet garni
2 pounds small clams or cockles,
about 40 to 50, scrubbed and rinsed
2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves
Drain the beans and put them in a 4-quart pot with enough water to cover by 1 inch. Nestle in the banquet garni. Bring the liquid to a slow simmer, cover the pot, and simmer until the beans are soft, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. You may need to add water from time to time to make up for evaporation.
Put the clams in a 4-quart pot with the wine. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and continue simmering until all the clams have opened, about 10 minutes.
Scoop the clams out of the pot and take them out of their shells, discarding the shells. Carefully pour the liquid left in the bottom of the pot into another container, leaving any sand behind. If the liquid is very sandy, strain it through cheesecloth (rinsed first to eliminate bleach or chemicals) or a fine-mesh strainer.
Add the clam liquid, shelled clams, and parsley to the beans. Bring to a simmer, season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.
Suggestions and Variations:
Spanish cooks make a similar but more assertive version of this soup called fabes con almejas. It is made almost the same way, but some chopped garlic and a good pinch of saffron and ground chili ate cooked together with the clams.
Zuppa di vongole has a light, brothlike texture that makes it a great dish for summer—it can even be served cold. If you want to thicken the soup slightly, purée about a third of the beans in a blender and stir them into the finished soup. In the winter I sometimes add a little heavy cream, which is magnificent.
By James Peterson
John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2001
Hardback, $ 45.00
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page created October 2001
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