I'd love to claim that this wonderful recipe required hours of arduous research and testing (not to mention the expert application of all of my hard-won culinary skills) before I was able to settle on the exact proportions of its ideal ingredients. But I'd be lying. In truth, I had almost nothing to do with it. The clams did it.
Certain ingredients — including clams, mussels, rack of lamb, skirt steak and dark chocolate — make meals delicious with very little effort on your part. Really, you'd have to be an idiot to screw them up. Clams and mussels are especially generous, delivering a one-two punch of taste thrills: the succulent bivalves themselves and the deeply flavourful juices that stream out of them when they're cooked.
My favourite way to mess with clams is to steam them, as in this recipe. You toss all the ingredients into a pot, pile on the clams, put on the lid, crank up the heat, and presto! Ten minutes later the dish is done. The only problem is that the clam liquor at the bottom of the pot is so tasty that I'm forced to sop it up with slice after slice of bread.
That's why I decided to bulk up this dish with broccoli rabe, a healthy and savory vegetable that absorbs some of the clam liquor as it cooks (though the clam liquor that remains still cries out for at least a slice or two of toasted country-style bread).
As a way of blunting the vegetable's slightly bitter edge, your first step with broccoli rabe is to blanch it. Cut off the tough ends of the stems, then boil it all in a large pot of salted water for two minutes. Next, drain it and transfer it to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the colour. Finally, chop it crosswise into pieces about 1/2-inch thick. It's just much easier to eat that way. The garlic, chili sauce, ginger and sesame oil in the broth are complements strong enough to stand up to the robustness of the broccoli rabe.
After insisting above that there's no way to screw up cooking with clams, I've got to emphasize one crucial step, a step to ensure that the little guys turn out tender. You need to remove each clam from the pot as it opens up. The first ones will be good to go after four or five minutes. The last clam might stay clammed up until five or six minutes later, by which time the first clams — if you'd left them in — would be horribly tough.
That's it. Quick, easy, nutritious, delicious and satisfying. Try it and see if you don't end up happier than a clam.
ASIAN STEAMED CLAMS OR MUSSELS WITH BROCCOLI RABE
Start to finish: 30 minutes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon grated or finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions (white and green parts)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce (or your favourite hot sauce)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 dozen littleneck clams or 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed well
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
3 cups blanched and coarsely chopped broccoli rabe
8 thick slices country-style bread, toasted
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium high. Add the ginger, scallions and garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the chili sauce, white wine, chicken broth and clams. Cover tightly and cook until the clams start to open. As they open, transfer the clams to a bowl. It will take 7 to 10 minutes for all the clams to open. Discard any clams that do not open.
Keep the saucepan over medium heat. Return the clams and any liquid in the bowl to the pan. Add the broccoli rabe, then cook just until heated through. Add the sesame oil and stir well. Divide the clams and broccoli rabe, along with the cooking liquid, between 4 shallow soup bowls. Serve each bowl with a few slices of toasted bread and a soup spoon.
Nutrition information per serving: 450 calories; 100 calories from fat (22 per cent of total calories); 12 g fat (0.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 45 mg cholesterol; 52 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 29 g protein; 500 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."