A little extra effort adds elegance to any meal in the form of appetizers. Clams are a special favorite the world over, and one of the most delicious ways to serve them is as clams oreganata. At its most basic, this is simply clams on the half shell stuffed with breadcrumbs, although most cooks insist upon a few additions to add to the flavor.
While the bread-crumb stuffing can be made with dried herbs in a pinch, fresh ones are so much better. Minced oregano and parsley add traditional Italian fragrance and flavor, although some cooks like to add thyme as well. Garlic is essential, as is some good cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil. The mixture must be moistened with chicken stock or brine.
Some cooks make a little extra effort by adding minced, sautéed garlic. Roughly chopped canned plum tomatoes add color and up the moisture ante. Lemon zest or a squeeze of lemon creates a more complex flavor too.
Beginning with fresh, clean ingredients is essential, and the wise cook knows that clams can be full of gritty sand. Soaking clams for an hour or so in water that has been dosed with black pepper induces them to regurgitate the grit. The next step to preparing clams oreganata is culling out any clams that have given up the ghost. After tossing clams with deep cracks, giving the remaining ones a sharp tap gives the cook a visual clue. Any clam that doesn’t respond by tightening up the shell is likely dead and must be discarded or it could make a diner very sick indeed.
The recipe for clams oreganata isn’t difficult, but talking the clams into opening up enough to pry off the top shell takes a little know-how. After the shells have been well scrubbed, a quick visit to a preheated oven for just a minute or two will convince them to open their shells enough to pry the top shell free. Gently pulling the clams free from their bottom shells means easier eating. Cooks can use their fingers or a butter knife to accomplish this. Once pulled free, each clam can be tucked back into the shell.
Tightly packing as much of the breadcrumb stuffing into each shell and around each clam is the final clams oreganata precooking step. The cook should run the flat side of a butter knife around the rim of each shell. This will keep the moisture, and the flavor, inside. A little water poured into the broiler pan adds steam as the breadcrumbs themselves crisp and brown in a few minutes under the broiler.