Who might you ask is nice? Just about everyone in Texas. It sounds like an exaggeration, but I assure you it’s true. Our relocation here has been met by a welcoming committee that extends far beyond our tiny (but valuable) collection of new acquaintances. Perfect strangers offer such a heartfelt welcome that they barely stop short of a big bear hug. They’re inclusive, helpful, excited and genuinely hopeful that you will be happy in their beloved state. I’m starting to wonder why everyone doesn’t move to Texas…..maybe it’s the heat.
My husband’s team at work is simply one more example of this hospitality. For the months and months…and months that he traveled between states, they never waivered in their concern for his grueling schedule or the separation from his family. They routinely inquired after me and eagerly looked forward to when we would all be settled in TX together. Shortly after I got here (and thanks to my husband’s fervent PR campaign) requests from his office came pouring in for Cheeseburger Soup. I was happy to oblige, but knowing my aversion to Velveeta you might have guessed I wanted to prepare something a bit more….well….sophisticated. Didn’t happen. I’m a pleaser. Cheeseburger Soup made its TX debut and did not disappoint. I really don’t’ think this soup can. It’s a dirty little secret that I will forever deny should I come face-to-face with Ina.
While serving lunch that day I managed to field requests for lobster bisque, a confusingly described jalapeño something that is served somewhere in Grapevine and clam chowder. A while ago I made a classic clam chowder for my father-in-law, only to be poked and prodded for the last year by my husband urging me (obviously not subtly) for his clam chowder to make it on the menu. It’s loaded with sweet canned baby clams AND it’s studded with more than its fair share of applewood smoked bacon. I think the recipe originally came from Williams-Sonoma and with a few minor tweaks it’s a household favorite. However, this time around, it’s not only for our dinner table, but a large jar traveled to work with my husband for a very special someone who just happens to fall into the “Nice People” category.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma “Soup” Cookbook.
Try to make this a day in advance as the flavors will continue to develop as it sits overnight. Feel free to add more clam juice if you want a bolder clam flavor.
- 2 TBSP unsalted butter
- 1 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cups chopped yellow onion (about 1 large)
- 3 oz pancetta, small dice
- 1 cup chopped celery, small chop (about 3 stalks)
- 2 TBSP all-purpose flour
- 2 TBSP extra-dry vermouth
- 1 cup clam juice
- 14 oz red potatoes, small chop (about 3 medium)
- 2 10oz cans baby clams, drained
- 12 oz frozen sweet corn, thawed
- 3 cups half-and-half
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
- Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan (I used a 4 qt saute/simmer) over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes so it just begins to soften.
- Add the pancetta and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the celery and cook for another 1 minutes.
- Deglaze the pan by pouring in the vermouth and scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
- Sprinkle in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Deglaze the pan a second time by pouring in the clam juice and scraping up the brown bits.
- Pour in the dairy along with the potatoes, corn, bay leaves, salt and pepper.
- Raise the heat enough to bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Stir frequently to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Add the parsley and clams and simmer for an additional 5 minutes until the clams are warmed through.