Steamed Clams and Basil Pesto

Steamed shellfish work with so many different flavors. Here I top clams with a bright basil pesto. It is a super-easy preparation and makes an elegant and easy weeknight meal. Serves 4 as an appetizer or light entree 3 dozen littleneck clams, rinsed thoroughly (discard any that won’t close)1 cup white wine1/2 cup Basil Pesto (see below)2 tablespoons butter1 crusty baguette, sliced and toasted

Place the clams and wine in a covered pot over high heat. As the broth begins to boil, gently stir the clams to ensure that they cook evenly. Once all the shells are open (discard any that haven’t opened after 5 minutes), remove the clams from the pot and place them in serving bowls, leaving as much of the broth in the pot as possible. Carefully pour the broth into a bowl, leaving any sand that has collected in the bottom of the pot. Add the pesto and butter to the clam broth and stir to combine. Pour over the clams and serve with toasted bread.

Basil Pesto

There are many different kinds of nuts you can use for this sauce; I prefer walnuts because they are usually cheaper than other types, plus they have a nice sweetness that matches well with the basil. I don’t use cheese in my pesto because I prefer the clean, bright flavor of the basil to shine through. While I like pesto with cheese for pasta, I do not think it is necessary for use with seafood. Makes 1 quart

1 cup walnuts 3 cloves garlic, peeled 1 cup canola oil (or, for added flavor, ¾ cup canola oil plus ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil) Leaves from 1 pound fresh basil Salt

Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in a pre-heated 350degree oven for about 8 minutes. The nuts should be highly aromatic, and the thin skin should be flaky. Allow them to cool. Place the nuts in a colander and toss well with your hand to remove the flaky skin—it’s bitter and doesn’t puree very well, so it is best to get rid of as much as possible. After a minute of tossing, remove the cleaned nuts from the colander and discard any skin that has sloughed off. Place the garlic and oil in a blender. Puree until the garlic is incorporated (The garlic will help keep the basil bright green.) Add the basil leaves and puree until the mixture becomes a smooth paste. Add the walnuts and pulse until the pesto is thick. Season to taste with salt. When storing the pesto, cover it with plastic wrap pressed against the surface of the sauce to keep air from getting to it (this will prevent discoloration). Pesto will keep refrigerated for 1 week and frozen up to 9 months.