Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Tale of Two Italys
What’s cooking? Clam & Corn Chowder

Most people, when they think of Little Italy in New York City, picture a tiny area in lower Manhattan, nestled next to Chinatown, featured in The Godfather, and the home of the famous Festival of San Gennaro. But the neighborhood population peaked (at 10,000) in 1910, and the physical area has since been under constant pressure, crowded by growth on the west from the artists in SoHo and celebrities in TriBeCa, by new highrises in the creeping gentrification of the Lower East Side and the Bowery, and wrapped on all sides by tentacles of Chinatown. Even NoLIta (North of Little Italy), a section once firmly part of the corpus of Little Italy, now commands its own identity with the yuppies that call the area home.

So where does one go to find the merchants and residents who once occupied that space? Come with me to visit Arthur Avenue, in the Fordham section of The Bronx.

A short aside: If you’re limited to Manhattan and want a great Italian shopping and eating experience, check out Eataly, the emporium opened in 2010 by Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich. It’s 50,000 square feet of food courts and shelves of dried pastas, jams, sauces, olives, 100 different kinds of olive oil, and pretty much anything produced in Italy, as well as counters for fresh pasta, salumeria, espresso, and chocolate. According to Wikipedia, “Batali has described the place as a grocery store with tasting rooms.” It’s on Fifth Ave at 23rd Street, and well worth a visit. But it’s expensive, and it’s not Arthur Avenue.

This is Arthur Avenue.

The Kitchen Goddess made her first trip to Arthur Avenue last summer, and was immediately smitten. What you get with a trip to Arthur Avenue is the old world charm, tree-lined streets, and the sense of a neighborhood that’s completely committed to the best of a culture, culinarily speaking, of course. They have bakeries for every kind of Italian cookie, and different bakeries for crusty Italian breads. Open air markets with barrels of olives, and cheese shops with fresh mozzarella. Salumerias with huge displays of Italian cured meats, and butcher shops with fresh hot and sweet sausages as well as rabbit, pheasant, and wild boar. And, of course, shops for fresh pasta.

But my favorite stop was the fishmonger, Consenza's. There are other fishmongers on Arthur Avenue, but Cosenza’s was the only one I saw with a stand-up raw bar out front. The Kitchen Goddess made a little piggie of herself over the fresh clams and oysters, right there in the great outdoors.

And the bins inside had more gorgeous fish and shellfish than I think I’ve ever seen in one place before – all smelling like it just came out of the water.

I succumbed to the need for more clams, and took home a 2-pound bag (about 50 clams) to make a truly excellent clam chowder the next night. There is hardly a better dish in the world.

Kitchen Goddess note about fresh clams: Whole clams in their shells are sold live, usually in porous bags of net or burlap. The smaller clams are the tenderest, and you want to store them in the fridge (but not on ice), in a bowl covered with a damp kitchen towel. DO NOT keep them in a plastic bag, as they’ll die from lack of oxygen. Really fresh clams will last a few days, but if you buy them at a grocery store, you should cook them within 24 hours.

Before you cook them, take them out of their bag and put them in a bowl of fresh cold, unsalted water to cover, for 20-30 minutes. This’ll give the little buggers time to clean themselves of unwanted salt and sand on the inside. Then lift them out of the water (so you leave the sand behind), and scrub them with a soft brush or plastic mesh scrubber, to get rid of any sand on the outside of the shells. Now they’re ready to cook.

Clam and Corn Chowder

Adapted from Shelley Wiseman in Gourmet magazine, August 2007

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

3 slices bacon, cut into pieces about 1 inch long
5-6 small scallions, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts), or ¼ cup shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
corn sliced from 3 ears (about 2 cups)
1 pound small-to-medium boiling potatoes (red or white skins), cut in ½-inch cubes
16 ounces bottled clam juice
½ cup water
¼ cup dry white wine (optional)
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
½ cup red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch dice
2 pounds small hard-shelled clams, well cleaned
1½ cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

In a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven) over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring, until slightly browned but not crisp. Add the scallions or shallots and garlic, along with 1 tablespoon butter. Cook, stirring, another 2 minutes. Add the corn, potatoes, clam juice, water, wine, pepper, and thyme, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper and bring the mixture to a rolling boil, uncovered. Add the clams and return the mixture to a boil. Cover the pot and cook, checking and stirring occasionally, until the clams are just opened wide, about 7-8 minutes. Discard any clams that haven’t unopened after 8 minutes, as they probably weren’t alive on the way into the pot.

Reduce the heat and add the half-and-half and the chives/parsley, as well as the remaining tablespoon of butter. Cook, stirring, until the chowder is heated through, but don’t let it boil. Adjust chowder seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with toasted French or Italian bread and a green salad.


  1. i want to dive in!

    1. Just looking at this again, and I concur, Hen. Maybe we should make the trek this summer?