Clam Toasts and Pancetta
Clam toast sounds charming and out of time, like something M.F.K. Fisher might have enjoyed at a roadside cafe on one of her tramps through Europe. The base of the dish is a soffritto of pancetta, sweet onion, garlic, fennel, wine, and lemon zest. It’s a wondrous concoction: savory-sweet and full of bright citrus and fatty salt. We cook the clams in it, and their briny sea flavor adds the final, complementary note.
The thing to do is to spoon the clam and soffritto goodness onto very thick slabs of pan-fried garlic toast, and then pour the broth over it. The toast will sop up all those juices — a soft, crispy delight. You’ll have to eat it with a knife and fork, but it’s worth it. Plus, you can use the utensils to hold off interlopers: this is a scrumptious dish, and you won’t want to share your portion.
We like clam toast as a light dinner for two — and it’s even more splendid with a glass of white wine. If you double or triple the recipe, it also makes an impressive appetizer. Make it when you meet your S.O.’s friends for the first time. They’ll be your biggest fans.
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
2 oz pancetta, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, 2 thinly sliced, 2 whole
½ medium sweet onion, finely chopped
½ small fennel bulb, finely chopped, plus ¼ cup fennel fronds
2 strips lemon zest, cut 3 ½-inches wide
1 bay leaf
½ tsp ground fennel
1 cup dry white wine, divided
2 slices sourdough bread, cut 1 ½-inches thick
1 lb Manila or littleneck clams
¼ cup parsley leaves
Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving
To make the soffritto: Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the sliced garlic and cook, stirring often, until the garlic is golden around the edges, about 1 minute.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the sweet onion and chopped fennel. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are soft and the onion is translucent, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the lemon zest, bay leaf, ground fennel, ½ cup white wine, and a pinch of salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is mostly reduced but the mixture is still a little bit saucy, about 3 minutes.
Transfer the soffritto to a medium bowl; discard the lemon zest and bay leaf. Note: Soffritto can be made 2 days ahead. Let it cool, then cover and chill.
To make the toast: Wipe out the skillet and heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Arrange the bread slices in the skillet and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Transfer the toast to paper towels to drain.
Cut 1 garlic clove in half and rub one side of each toast with the cut side of the garlic.
To make the clam toasts: Wipe out the skillet again and heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Crush the remaining garlic clove with the side of a chef’s knife and cook, stirring often, until it begins to turn golden, about 1 minute.
Add the clams, soffritto, and remaining ½ cup white wine. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the ingredients to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half and the clams are open (discard any that do not open), 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the parsley and fennel fronds and cook for 1 minute longer. Taste and season with salt, if needed.
Place the toast on plates and spoon the clam mixture and cooking broth over them. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from: Bon Appetít