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A Clams + Orzo Recipe

clams and orzo recipe

For those weeknights that you want something quick and good, here is our public service announcement for today. Our Founder Christine shares her go-to recipe for clams and orzo. She ups the ante with fresh mint, parsley, and dried chili peppers, along with a few secrets to emulsify the sauce without cream. All in just 15 minutes.

An Inspired Dish

I was in Dubai last year at Tasca at the Mandarin Oriental, and I became obsessed with their traditional Portuguese clams on toast and shrimp and rice. I’m more of a potato and bread fan than a rice and pasta, but these dishes inspired me to recreate them at home. As luck would have it, Eataly didn’t have the shrimp I wanted, and I was out of long-grain rice. What I did have though was orzo, which is a rice-shaped Italian noodle. This is how my take on clams and orzo was born. I do love to improvise in the kitchen, and this recipe ended up being even simpler than the original plan. In about 15 minutes, I had a meal that is a lot healthier than ordering out.

On the Clams

There are a couple of keys to this clams and orzo recipe. First, I love clams, so I like to have a generous portion for this dish. I reserve about 1 lb of the clams in their shells for the presentation of the dish. The rest goes right into the orzo. On the clams, it’s important to scrub them well so you can use some of the wine where they’re steamed for your orzo.

Secondly, I learned how to properly steam clams from Chef Pato Fuentes of MIMO, the best cooking school in San Sebastian. Besides cleaning your clams well, you don’t need to cover them. Instead, steam them up in about 1 inch of liquid over medium-high heat. As soon as the clams open, put them aside as it’s at that point that they’re perfectly cooked. Fresh clams are actually the foundation of this clams and orzo recipe. Cockles are a little too small for this recipe, and you don’t want large clams as then you’ll have to chop them up. I find Manila clams to be perfect. If you can’t get fresh clams, then I would save this one for another time.

Clams and Orzo

A Tip for the Orzo

The orzo becomes almost like a risotto in this clams and orzo recipe, where the combination of olive oil, lemon, and broth will emulsify to thicken your sauce. Notice there’s no butter in this equation; if you do everything correctly, you won’t need it. Secondly, what would otherwise be bland is packed with flavor because you cook the orzo in a vegetable broth. Just make sure it’s not mushroom broth, as that will actually throw off both the coloring and the flavor of the dish.

The orzo is cooked in the broth and will not be drained, and you’ll add the shelled clams directly into the mixture. This will give you a starchy pasta water that will naturally thicken your dish.

Ingredients

For the Clams:

5 lbs Manila clams
2 1/2 cups White wine or Champagne
1/2 cup parsley
1 Meyer lemon

For the Orzo

1 16 oz packet of Orzo
4 cups vegetable broth
High-quality olive oil
Sea salt
1 cup finely chopped parsley
3 sprigs Mint
2 Meyer lemons
Grated parmesan cheese

\

Optional:

1/3 cup whole milk or half and half
Chili pepper flakes

Serves 6
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Directions

You’ll need two pots for this recipe. I like to use a Dutch oven to make the orzo, and a 3 1/2 quart deep skillet to make the clams. As I mentioned, you need to scrub your clams very well, as their shells retain a lot of dirt. Optimally you’ll want to use some of the wine and parsley broth for the orzo sauce. If you don’t scrub the clams well enough, your clam broth will be grey and not very appetizing.

Clams

Steam the Clams

In your deep skillet, crank the heat up to medium-high and add your clean clams, the white wine, about 2 teaspoons of sea salt, and the parsley. Squeeze in the juice of one-half of the Meyer lemons over the clams and broth. Cook uncovered until the clams open. As soon as the clams open, place them aside in a bowl. Take about 3 lbs of the clams out of their shells and sprinkle them with olive oil and some additional chopped parsley. Reserve 1 lb of the clams in the shell to garnish your dish. This whole process will take less than 6-7 minutes.

Cook the Orzo

While your clams are steaming, get started on the orzo. First, I like to toast the orzo. It provides both an interesting flavor profile and visual enhancement to the recipe. You can toast the orzo on the stovetop in olive oil for about 3 minutes; it’s one of those little details where a little extra time gives a good return on investment. Once you’ve toasted the orzo, set it aside, and in your Dutch oven, heat about 3 1/2 cups of the vegetable broth over high heat. Add about 2 teaspoons of sea salt. Once the broth is boiling, add in the orzo and bring it all back to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high, and boil the orzo for about 10-12 minutes.

Watch the water level on the pasta; you want most of the broth to evaporate leaving you a soupy pasta. But do not let all of it evaporate as you won’t be able to thicken the orzo sauce. If it looks like the orzo is soaking up too much of the broth, add the reserved 1/2 cup of broth. At about the 9-10 minute mark, add in the optional whole milk or half and half.

While the pasta is cooking, squeeze 1/2 of the Meyer lemon into a bowl, and whisk in about 1/2 cup olive oil until emulsified. Add in the parsley. Set aside.

Once the orzo has about a minute left to cook, pour the reserved liquid from the clams over the pasta. Cook this for about 1-2 minutes more over medium heat. Add in the lemon olive oil parsley sauce, and reduce heat to simmer. Grate fresh parmesan into the orzo so that the sauce thickens. Next, scoop the clams from their shells, add them to the orzo mixture, and cook for another minute over low heat. If you want a creamier sauce, you can add an additional splash of the whole milk or half and half.

To Present the Clams and Orzo

I like to put this in a large shallow bowl, as it’s impressive to place it right in the middle of the table. Pour in your orzo and clams, and top with the clams in their shells. Lastly, top it with your mint, a little more parley, and olive oil as needed. You shouldn’t need any additional salt for this dish. The salt from the broth should season it perfectly. Serve immediately with the optional chili pepper flakes on the side.

Related Articles

Tasca’s Clam + Toast Recipe 
Linguine with Grilled White Clam Sauce 
The Perfect Steamed Clams 
The Only Clam Chowder Recipe You Need 

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