summer seafood chowder

I don’t care if it’s going to be 80 degrees by noon, I’m making soup. That was my attitude Sunday morning, when I asked myself what I was going to make for lunch for my in-laws who would be arriving hungry in a few hours. Soup is the perfect food. Warm, satisfying, comforting, nutrition-packed. Elegant and refined, or rough and rustic—either way, making soup is a chance to develop beautiful layers of flavor and play with texture and color. Soup is a way to get kids to eat vegetables that they might not touch if they were just laying naked on a plate. The vegetables I mean, not the kids.

Soup Bonus #1: The long simmering soup would permeate the house with the kind of aromatic air freshener I wish I could bottle and sell (SoupBreeze?) because it goes a long way toward masking the odor of two dogs, two cats and sweaty mudroom sneakers, which hits you in the face the moment you walk into my kitchen through the back door. And everyone uses the back door.

Bonus #2: You can use up things languishing in the crisper drawer that still have a lot to offer a soup but have lost the first blush of youth. (Kind of like a second marriage.) Droopy celery, ashy carrots and tired corn on the cob are really grateful to be given a chance to be soup. They give their all!

In the tradition of “garde manger,” (the station in a restaurant that was meant to “guard the food” or more accurately “guard the waste” by turning leftovers or extra product into something “special” for the next day’s menu before it went bad), soup making is a great way to get value from what might otherwise end up in the trash. That’s not to say you can’t make soup from fresh and vibrant ingredients!  But making a weekly stock or soup can get you thinking about not throwing out those leek tops, or that half onion you didn’t use in another recipe or mushroom stems or bits of meat and bone you may have trimmed away. You can toss things like that in a zipper bag, keep them in the freezer to use for making your own stock, or for building a great soup like this one to wow visiting guests and disguise pet odor all in one fell swoop!

This soup was inspired by nearly a quart of quartered scallops I had in the freezer leftover from a dinner party a month back, (ok, so I over bought, but I can’t help this, it’s genetic), and another half quart container of chopped clams I always have around for a linguine with white clam sauce emergency jones which can happen at any time.

In deference to the 80 degree weather and the French Toast Grilled Cheese I was concocting in my head to go along with the soup, I decided to make the base of the soup a light, tomato-y Manhattan broth instead of the creamy, buttery New England version. Not one of my cookbooks published in the last 10 years had a recipe for good ol’ Manhattan Clam Chowder, so I had to pull out the well-worn 1989 edition of The New Basics to find Julie Rosso’s and Sheila Lukin’s “I’ll Take Manhattan Chowder” recipe. Twenty-one years later, it’s still a kickin’ soup, even when using frozen instead of fresh clams ( I buy these at Whole Foods). I used homemade chicken stock that I keep frozen, but by all means, used boxed broth…just make me happy and get the organic low or no sodium kind. I also added the kernels from two ears of corn and the scallops which gave the broth an extra surprise of sweetness that was really, really good. I had no green peppers so I used jarred red roasted peppers but only threw them in during the last 10 minutes of simmering.

I’ll Take Manhattan Chowder
adapted from The New Basics, Russo & Lukins

6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces*
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup small dice onions
1/2 cup small dice celery
1/2 cup small dice green peppers or jarred roasted red peppers
3/4 cup small dice carrots
3/4 cup sliced leeks (light green or white part)
2 cups chopped frozen clams and their liquid
or 24 fresh cherrystone clams shucked and reserved in their liquid
6 large scallops, quartered
1 large can plum tomatoes (32 oz), crushed
4 cups organic chicken stock
2-3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 sprigs of fresh thyme or 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, chopped parsely (optional as garnish)

1. In a large soup pot, over a low-medium flame cook the bacon so it gives up some of it’s fat but doesn’t brown. About 5 minutes.
2. Add the  butter. When it has melted, add the onions, celery, green pepper, carrots and leeks. Sweat these over a low hear until tender, about 10 minutes. Do not brown.
3. Drain the clams and scallops, reserving the liquid. Chop to desired size. Set aside.
4. Add the reserved clam and scallop liquid, plum tomatoes, chicken stock and ptotatoes to the pot. Cover and simmer 20 minutes until potatoes are cooked through.
5. Add the thyme, salt and pepper and fresh corn. Simmer gently, uncovered for 10 minutes. Then, add seafood and simmer for additional 2-3 minutes until clams and scallops are tender but not rubbery. Serve immediately with chopped parsley garnish (optional).

* A culinary school habit: look down the list of items needed for a recipe and haul them all out before you even start cooking anything. Then get everything ready. Chop your vegetables, measure out the spices and set them out, so they are ready to be added at the precise time they are needed, NOT in a panic as the other ingredients are burning. I bought a dozen or so little inexpensive Pyrex bowls at the supermarket just for this reason. Getting everything ready before you start cooking is called “mise en place.” This simple rule of putting ingredients in place makes executing a recipe a lot less stressful, will save you from any unexpected turns of event in the recipe (oops, I’m supposed to marinate this for a week and my guests will be here in an hour) and make you feel like a cooking show pro (minus the prep staff).