Sardinia is an island in Italy well known for its famous grass-fed sheep’s milk cheese and, a favourite of mine, pecorino. The pairing of this cheese with a rich broth with steamed clams and bread to mop up, is another favourite cheese and seafood combination.
Australia doesn’t have the range and sizes of clams that are quite readily available in the colder waters of North America and Europe, so surf clams, vongole and pipis can all be used for this dish in Australia. They will all require purging to remove the grit and sand, which can be done by soaking them in lightly salted cool water for a few hours or overnight. Ask your fishmonger first, as this may have already been done for you.
Clams cook quickly, so you want to have everything ready to go for cooking and serving so you don’t overcook them, or they go cold. Use a wide-based pot so it doesn’t lose too much heat when the clams are added, and they steam open evenly. The clams and sauce will cool quickly, so warm your serving bowl as you are cooking them.
Serve with a glass of funky, skin-contact Vermintino and a bowl for the shells.
For a deeper dive into the world of cheese recipes, get your copy of Colin Wood’s There’s Always Room for Cheese.
Clams with Green Cheese and Ham
- 1 bunch English spinach, stems left on, washed
- 1 bunch tarragon or chervil, picked and washed
- 100 ml (3 1/2 fl oz) whey
- 20 g (3/4 oz) lardo, cut into 5 mm (1/4 in) dice (see notes)
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed
- 70 g (2 1/2 oz) thick mayonnaise, at room temperature
- 15 g (1/4 oz) fresh, finely grated Pecorino Sardo , (see notes)
- 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) clams, vongole or pipis, purged
- splash (50 ml/13/4 fl oz) Pernod or white wine
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1-2 tablespoons garlic brine, liquid or juice
- fish sauce, to taste
- crusty baguette, to mop up the sauce
- In a blender on high, process the raw spinach, herbs and whey for 1 minute, then pass through a fine-mesh strainer to make a green whey. This can be done ahead of time and even frozen. (Any left over can be blended with more whey, yoghurt and a banana for a green breakfast smoothie.)
- Keep the green whey out at room temperature because cold whey will cool the sauce down too much and heating it too much may cause it to brown.
- In a heavy wide-based saucepan with a lid over low heat, gently render the lardo in the oil until translucent.
- In a large stainless-steel bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and finely grated pecorino. Have a fine-mesh strainer ready.
- Once the lardo is clear, turn the heat up to high and, when hot, gently place the clams in so you don’t smash the shells. Put a lid on and steam over high heat for 60—90 seconds until the clams have all opened.
- Carefully strain the liquid into a jug, put the clams gently back in the pan and return to the stove with no heat. Put the stainless-steel bowl with the mayonnaise over the top, keeping the clams warm while also warming the mayonnaise. Slowly add the hot stock and green whey, whisking until you have a thick, foamy green sauce. Season with lemon juice, Pernod, garlic brine and fish sauce.
- Add the clams to the sauce, toss together and place in a warmed bowl. Spoon any remaining sauce over each clam. Serve with a crusty baguette and a bowl for the shells.
Grana Padano can be substituted for Pecorino Sardo.
There’s Always Room for Cheese by Colin Wood (Hardie Grant, £28), Photography © Rob Palmer.