Saturday, July 19, 2008

Stuffies!

Anyone outside of New England might be looking at the title of this post and thinking…what the heck are stuffies?? No it has nothing to do with undergarments! If you do live in the New England area then you already know that they are stuffed quahog shells. Moist and tender clams, Italian bread, bacon, and seasonings stuffed into a shell then baked until they are crispy and eaten piping hot. I think it may be a law in RI that you must burn your tongue on a stuffie at least once a year or you could face deportation (you know like to Canada or something).

Stuffies are everywhere in Rhode Island. You can find them at the local VFW halls, backyard cookouts, local clambakes and, of course, just about every restaurant in the area. There are probably as many recipes for stuffies as they are clams in the ocean. They are all similar, and most contain the same basic ingredients. The difference comes in the amount of other ingredients that embellish the bread and quahog. My Gram always made awesome stuffies. I can remember sitting at her kitchen table, cutting up dozens and dozens of quahogs with the kitchen shears. I wish I had written her recipe down. Lost forever.

If you’re a good New Englander, you go out and you dig for your own quahogs. If you are slacker like me, you go to the local fish market and buy the shells ($1 for 15 – bargain!) and you buy the quahogs already minced in clam juice. Now don’t go thinking I have never quahoged in my life. When I was younger I went with my Pa. He had a quahog rake and a bushel basket with an inner tube around the outside. The official tools of a Rhode Island quahoger. You float the basket while you dig. I’m sure I did more playing than digging back then.

In the 70’s wherever there was a patio or porch, there was a calm shell ashtray. If you were lucky enough it was hand painted! I can remember painting clamshells in school to bring home for Mother’s or Father’s Day gifts and I’m sure kids that went to camp found out that clam shells would be part of their craft making projects. They are literally everywhere out here. In the coastal towns even their driveways are made out of crushed shells. I kid you not.

So since it was over 90 degrees today, I decide it was the perfect night to heat up the oven and make some stuffies! I also decided it was the perfect night to fry up clamcakes (that's the next post) cause I really wanted to spend a half hour cleaning the grease splatter off my black stove.

Without further adieu I give you the recipe for my stuffies:

Lisa's Stuffed Quahogs
1 loaf Italian bread
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 quart chopped hard-shell clams, in juice (this is enough to make stuffies and clamcakes)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 pound bacon, chopped fine
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 stick butter, cut into smaller pieces
Fresh parsley
juice of a half of lemon
paprika

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, add the onions and chopped bacon. Cook until the bacon is crispy, but not overly browned. If your bacon renders off too much fat drain it off so just the bottom of the pan is coated with bacon grease. That's where all the yummy bacony flavor is! At this point I add in the crushed garlic and Worcestershire sauce and then I turn off the heat while I make the stuffing part of the recipe.

It's best to use day old bread for this recipe, but you can use fresh in a pinch. You can do like I did and rip the bread into little pieces or you can get out your food processor and grind it up in that. I didn't feel like dragging out my food processor so I just ripped it up by hand. I add my seasoning to the bread when it's all ripped up in the bowl. I put in some fresh chopped parsley and a good couple of shakes of Mrs. Dash. I love Mrs. Dash, what would I do without her?

Take the juice from the clams and pour it all over the bread. Get in there and squish it up with your hands until you have a nice big bowl of goop. If you don't have enough juice, you can use canned clam juice or even chicken stock. I always have a can of clam juice in my cupboard, cause that's the kind of girl I am. Squish it around, kinda like your making meatballs. Never made meatballs??? Shame on you....go do a search at the top of my blog and make some homemade meatballs, your family will thank you for it.

Now back to the pan. I add in about 2 cups of clams (I just kinda eye this part) and the stuffing mixture and the chopped butter and let them all mesh together. Just before I turn off the heat I squeeze on the lemon. Ok now your just need to let this cool so you can handle it. While that cools I will tell you how to prepare your shells.

Preparing the shells for baking.

You need to clean the shells really well before you bake them. The easiest way to do this is in your dishwasher. I'm serious. Load them into the top rack, and run them through a cycle. Whatever you do DON'T USE DISH SOAP! You just want to sanitize them. If you don't have a dishwasher, you can boil them for a few minutes then let them cool. If you are storing them to use the next day, make sure you put them in the fridge or your whole house will smell like low tide in the morning. Not a good thing.

Back to the stuffing. Go preheat your oven to 375 so it's nice and hot. Take your clean shells and your cooled stuffing and get a big sheet pan, grab a shell and start stuffing. I just take a big tablespoon and pack enough stuffing in there so everyone get a nice portion.

The last step is to sprinkle some paprika on them before they go in. Then I do something my Gram always did...I put a little piece of bacon on the top of each one. Looks cute....tastes great. I get 15 stuffies from this recipe. They cooked for about 30 minutes. Check them at the 20 minute mark. You want them to be heated through and get a nice crunchy top.

Let them cool before anyone picks one up cause those shells get smokin' hot in the oven. I do know impatient people who will grab a pot holder to hold the hot shell shell in cause they can't wait for them too cool. They most likely will burn their toungue. Serves them right. Once they are cool enough...grab a spoon and start eating.

John and Evan eat them with hot sauce, I eat mine with a little drop of lemon. They are filling little buggers, so a little goes a long way.

Now go get stuffing!
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