It’s the final challenge of the Lambs + Clams Contest. For the past 4 months I have been 1 of 8 national bloggers assigned to devise a recipe using lamb provided by Border Springs Farm or shellfish from Rappahannock River Oysters, culminating in the Charleston Wine and Food Festival in March. For this final contest we received a variety pack. Think surf and turf – Lambs and Clams style – namely 2 pounds of ground lamb and 25 plump middleneck clams. I admit, these are 2 ingredients I’ve never combined in one recipe, but, hey, there’s always a first time. And I love a good challenge.
Right away I considered a Mediterranean inspired stew, imagining poached clams in a robust tomato broth, with spicy lamb keftas standing in for chorizo. But: I have already created a recipe somewhat similar to that. It did get me thinking, though, of lamb doing double duty for something else, like, say, bacon. Now, had I received a hunk of meat, I could have made my own lamb bacon, but I had ground lamb instead. So why not spice and cook the minced lamb to a point of crispness, where it could stand in for crumbled bacon? Hmmmm.
Which brings me to the weather – as all musings and ramblings do at some point. For the record, it’s cold, grey and wintery at the moment, which in my book is the perfect climate for warm, cheesy gratinéed food. A picture was beginning to form of a gratinéed clam on a halfshell crowned with crispy spiced minced lamb. And since it’s the New Year when healthy resolutions abound, I added a mound of spinach to the mix.
So if you give a cook a challenge, then you get…
Gratinéed Clams with Spinach, Cheese and Crispy Lamb
For the spinach:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
6 ounces spinach leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano cheese
For the lamb:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
16 middleneck or Manila clams
Finely grated Parmigiano cheese for sprinkling
Fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped, for garnish
Prepare the spinach:
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté until fragrant, 1 minute. Add spinach. Sauté until leaves wilt. Add salt. Transfer spinach to a cutting board. Cool slightly, then coarsely chop. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the cheese.
Prepare the lamb:
Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add lamb. Cook, stirring, until fat renders and lamb is brown. Drain and return lamb to the skillet. Add paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne. Sauté briefly to combine. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add clams. Reduce heat to medium and partially cover. Cook until the clams open, about 5 minutes. Drain clams. (Discard any unopened clams). When cool enough to handle, pry apart the shells; discard the tops. Carefully loosen the clam muscle from the shell, leaving the clam in the bottom half of each shell.
Heat oven broiler. Place a heaping teaspoon of spinach over a each clam. Top with a teaspoon of lamb. Liberally sprinkle with cheese. Place in a baking dish. Broil until the lamb is crispy brown and the clams are sizzling, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve warm.
I would like to thank the folks at BBT’s Charleston Wine and Food Festival for sponsoring this contest and inviting me to participate. I also thank Border Springs Farm and Rappahannock River Oysters for supplying gorgeous products for each challenge. Next month will be so uneventful without one of their packages arriving.