Clams Casino is a classic 100-year old dish attributed to the Little Casino hotel/restaurant in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Although the dish is popular at Italian restaurants, the Italians had nothing to do with it originally. Over the century since its invention, dozens of variations have been developed. I'm going to give you the basics from which you can create your own truly delicious appetizer or hors d'oeuvre.
Cherrystone clams are traditional, but you can use any kind of clam that you can find locally. In any case, you will want to shuck the clams and remove the meat. You can then chop the clams and add them to the rest of the filling ingredients, or you can leave them whole and pile the rest of the filling on top of it.
The three filling ingredients that I believe are a must for this dish are bell peppers, bacon (or pancetta) and garlic. Things you can add include wine, shallots, onions, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce. Commonly used herbs include oregano, basil and parsley. Grated Parmagiano, bread crumbs, paprika and olive oil or butter are other choices often found in recipes. I'll give you a recipe here that I like as a point of departure, and you can do your own thing. Typically, each person will eat 4 - 6 of these puppies for a first course.
If you live in the right parts of the country, this is a frugal dish. If not, fresh clams can be expensive. If so, you can use canned clams, and, instead of using shells, you can serve the dish in small ramekins or other tiny dishes. A nice feature of this dish is that everything except the 7-minute final baking can be done in advance.
When I was a kid, we used to go to the beach and dig clams for free. All you need to do is walk along the beach and pound the wet sand with a stick. If a stream of water emanates from the sand, a clam will be underneath the surface. Quickly scoop the sand with a cultivating fork and voila, you will have a clam!
24 Fresh Cherrystone clams or equivalent
4 Slices Bacon or pancetta, finely diced
1 Tbs EVOO
1/4 Cup Onions or shallots, minced
1/4 Cup, Green bell pepper, minced
3 Cloves Garlic, peeled and pressed or minced
1 Cup Dry bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tsp Dried oregano
Chopped parsley for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350°. Wash the clams and bake them until they open, about 2 minutes. Shuck the clams and discard half the shells. Chop the meat and reserve it. Turn up the oven to 450°.
In a large skillet, sauté the bacon or pancetta until the fat is rendered and the pieces are crisp. Reserve the pieces. Pour off the fat, leaving about 1 Tbs in the skillet.
Add a little EVOO to the skillet and sauté the onions, bell pepper and garlic for 5 minutes. Allow to cool.
Combine the clams, onion mix and the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Spoon the mix into the clam shells and place the filled shells on an oven-proof dish filled with rock salt or on top of foil "pillows". Serve garnished with parsley with wedges of lemon and a bottle of Tabasco sauce for those who like a bit of heat.