Manhattan Red Clam Chowder
It is tempting to add the tomatoes early on in this recipe, but don’t do it. They’ll cause the potatoes to form a “skin,” for lack of a better description – that prevents them from releasing their starch. As in most chowders, the light thickening from the potato’s natural starch helps suspend the overall flavor and gives it a lovely texture. This recipe calls for whole peeled tomatoes cut into 1/2-inch dice; if you can find good-quality diced canned tomatoes, feel free to substitute them.
Scrub the clams and rinse clean. Steam them open, following the instructions in the Clam Broth recipe. Strain the broth; you should have 4 cups of broth (and 1 pound of clams). Cover the clams with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated. After they have cooled a bit, dice them into 1/2-inch pieces. Cover again and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Heat a 4- to 6-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the bacon. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the bacon is a crisp golden brown. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, leaving the bacon in the pot.
Add the olive oil and garlic and cook for 30 seconds, then add the onion, celery, bell pepper, carrots, bay leaves, oregano, and crushed red pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for 10 to 12 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.
Add the potatoes, the reserved clam broth, and the additional 1 cup broth. The broth should just barely cover the potatoes; if it doesn’t, add enough water to cover. Turn up the heat, bring to a boil, cover, and cook the potatoes vigorously for about 10 minutes, until they are soft on the outside but still firm in the center. If the broth hasn’t thickened lightly, smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot and cook a minute or two longer to release their starch.
Add the tomatoes and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the diced clams and chopped parsley, and season to taste with black pepper. (It is unlikely that you will need to add any salt; the clams usually provide enough.) If you are not serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover the chowder after it has chilled completely. Otherwise, let it sit at room temperature for up to an hour, allowing the flavors to meld.
When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat; don’t let it boil. Ladle into cups or bowls, making sure the clams, vegetables, and bacon are evenly divided.