Diary of a Hurricane

September 11, 2011

When I find myself cooped up inside my apartment in the city during a disaster, perceived or real, my first inclination is to cook. I still vividly remember the evening of September 11, 2001, when my best friend and I hunkered down at our kitchen table in our apartment in Bay Ridge, and methodically chopped and minced our way through several giant bunches of basil, making an exceedingly fine pesto, not speaking at all over the voices emanating from the radio. Trying to figure out what to do with our hands, our minds, our thoughts, ourselves while despair and sadness settled in over the city. I have never been able to make pesto without thinking of that night. Cooking soothes my nerves and allows me to make things beautiful and pleasing even when the world seems to be crumbling around us.

Last night I remade a clam chowder that I first made two weekends ago on the eve of Hurricane Irene’s presumed landing in New York City. Though the city ended up being spared the flooding that hit other parts of the Northeast, with all the precautions advised by the city government, my roommate E and I  stayed home and in our case cooked our way through the entire weekend with clam chowder, mushroom risotto, herbed scrambled eggs and cinnamon milk bread all making appearances in the kitchen.

I really like this particular clam chowder recipe. Its more of a clam-corn chowder and surprisingly hearty without being too thick or rich. The final dish results in a light, thinish cream broth with a pleasant “sludge” of potatoes and corn in every spoonful. I didn’t have clam juice so I used some mushroom broth instead which gave a nice earthy flavour.

The next time I make this soup I think I’ll save a bit of bacon and fry it crisp to sprinkle over the bowls of soup with some freshly chopped chives.

Clam and Corn Chowder (from Gourmet, Aug 2007)
Serves 4 . About 40 minutes start to finish.

3 bacon slices, cut crosswise into thin strips
1 bunch scallions (5 or 6)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 cups corn (from about 4 ears)
1 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups mushroom broth or 16 oz of clam juice
1/2 cup water (you could omit this I think)
2 pounds small hard-shelled clams, well scrubbed
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

Cook bacon in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring, until slightly browned but not crisp. Chop white and pale green parts of scallions (reserve greens) and add to bacon along with 1 tablespoon butter. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in corn, potatoes, clam juice/ mushroom broth, water, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and bring to a rolling boil, uncovered. Add clams and return to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until clams are just opened wide, 5 to 8 minutes (discard any clams that remain unopened after 8 minutes).
Chop 1/2 cup scallion greens and add to chowder along with milk, cream, and remaining tablespoon butter. Cook, stirring, until heated through (do not let boil). Season with salt and pepper.