Summer time is my absolute favorite time of the year, primarily because I love the flip flop lifestyle. Everyone sports lazy day, lightweight cottons and of course wears my favorite shoes – flip flops or sandals. Men wear cool shorts and short sleeve polo shirts or T’s while the ladies favor colorful sundresses. Farmer’s markets are overflowing with freshly picked summer vegetables such as dark green zucchini, bright yellow squash, freshly picked corn, cucumbers and my all time favorite – tomatoes. I’m always enchanted with the handmade signs directing you to neighbor’s gardens, where they’ve set up tables of freshly picked produce and a jar or box for you to leave your money and make change based on the honor system.
Every time I see zucchini I think of Wanda. For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, you may remember Wanda. She was Meakin’s late step-mother who, according to him, “was the best home cook he’d ever known.” While that was true, she was also very difficult to please (remember the bay leaf wreath I surprised her with for Christmas one year?) and, much to my chagrin, she would never ever share her recipes with me. You probably know someone who doesn’t share their recipes either. I never quite figured them out, but that’s another story.
This chowder is one of the recipes in particular I remember begging her for. She served it as a first course and it was so different from anything I’d ever eaten. It was luscious and tasted like a rich New England clam chowder stuffed full of fresh vegetables. Of course I absolutely had to have the recipe, but no go, she wasn’t sharing.
The only thing I knew for sure about her chowder was that it was cream based and contained zucchini, potatoes, and clams and was finished it in a food processor. At the time the Cuisinart food processors were brand new and all the rage. Everyone was talking about them. Consequently, there were many cookbooks designed especially for this new, must have kitchen appliance.
Never underestimate the determination of a cook like myself on the prowl for a recipe. Later that year I was visited Meakin’s mother in Florida and I spotted several issues of Cuisinart’s little cooking magazine on her coffee table. I had what you might call an “ah ha” moment. I thought maybe, just maybe, Wanda’s recipe might be in one of these little magazines. I quickly started flipping through them and low and behold, there it was - Wanda’s “secret recipe” for clam zucchini chowder.
The chowder is perfect for summer time when zucchini is abundant. The richness (including the fat & calories) can be controlled by the kind of milk you use. Light cream makes it luscious, but skim milk works well also. I added thyme, mostly because when we lived in the islands the Bahamians always added dried thyme to their chowders and I’ve done the same since then. If you don’t have a food processor, a blender works perfectly well and so would a handheld stick blender, or boat motor as Emerill Lagassee likes to calls it. I hope you’ll enjoy Wanda’s secret chowder as much as we do and please feel free to share it with anyone who asks for the recipe. I’m always thrilled when someone asks for one of my recipes and I believe it’s one of the best compliments a cook can get. Besides, it’s just the gracious thing to do.
Wanda’s secret Clam Zucchini Chowder
1 strip of bacon, plus extra for garnish if desired (see below)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 small zucchini, ends removed & sliced into 1” chunks
1 large carrot, peeled & sliced into 1” chunks
2 medium potatoes, peeled & chopped into 1” chunks
½ teaspoon dried chopped thyme
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 10 oz can whole or chopped baby clams in water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup milk or light cream (I use a combination)
Additional Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
For a garnish:
Finely chop a little extra zucchini and carrot and sauté them in a little of the bacon drippings. Add the extra crumbled bacon to the vegetables and use as a garnish for the chowder.
Sauté bacon in a large saucepan or stockpot until fairly crisp. Remove, crumble & set aside. Keep one tablespoon of drippings in the saucepan and discard the remainder. Add the chopped onion to drippings & sauté slowly until it takes on a little color and starts to brown. Add zucchini, carrot, potatoes, thyme, chicken broth, water from clams, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, a little freshly ground black pepper and the crumbled bacon, keeping back some of the bacon for garnish. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat & simmer, covered for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
Remove the vegetables & process in batches in the food processor or blender until smooth. Or you could leave the vegetables a little chunky as I did if you like a more rustic, homemade look. Return mixture to the saucepan and add the clams & milk. Gently reheat and taste to see if additional salt & pepper are needed. Garnish and serve.