Rhode Island Clams and Beans

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell
how to cook clams

Rhode Island clams and beans.

Not long ago we were having a cold beer at The Brazen Hen, an Irish Pub in Westerly R.I., with no thought of ordering food. As we enjoyed our brews we watched a steady stream of bowls filled with hot steamy clams coming from the kitchen. We had to have one.

Rhode Island Necks and Beans is a fantastic dish of littleneck clams in a heady garlicy broth made with white wine, tomato and cannellini beans, and every bit sopped up with toasted Italian bread. Not exactly Irish, but a great dish that combines local shellfish with the Italian and Portuguese influences in the area.

Necks and Beans isn’t something you’re likely to find on a Nashville menu, but it’s a terrific and easy one to make at home and it seems a little exotic for entertaining.  All this dish needs is lots of toasted Italian bread and crisp white wine.

We’ve noticed that Nashvillians have taken to brothy garlicy mussels, so clams aren’t a big stretch, and like mussels, they cook in just minutes. The change-up in this recipe is the inclusion of the beans which add a creamy component, and the spicy Portuguese chourico sausage (the Gaspar brand from Massachusetts is available at Publix). You can also substitute other cooked sausage like Andouille or kielbasa. The hard shell clams are available at most supermarkets. Check with your fishmonger.

For a dinner party, prepare the easy broth in advance and let it sit in a big Dutch oven on the stove. A few minutes before dinner heat the broth to a nice simmer, add the spinach, if using, and the clams and cover. They’ll take about 5 minutes to open wide and they’re done. Be sure to discard any clams that don’t open. Serve necks and beans in big bowls with lots of the broth and lots of bread.

how to cook clams

When you buy fresh clams, store them in the bags set in a bowl in the coldest back area of the refrigerator until ready to use. Soak the clams in icy cold salty water for about 30 minutes to purge them of any sand before cooking. 

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