My mother is the youngest of six. She grew up in a hard-working Italian household in an immigrant neighborhood, where summers were spent outside sitting on the stoop and tending to the large garden in the backyard. My grandmother canned pretty much anything that came from her garden. The colorful jars in her pantry were neatly lined up, showcasing her vivid red tomatoes, slender green beans, and colorful peppers. Canning is coming full circle and gaining in popularity, but she canned out of necessity.
Coming from an Italian family, it is no surprise that food was at the center of everything. My grandmother was a wonderful cook, having spent much of her time working in various restaurant kitchens. In addition to her homemade pastas, grandma made a mean bowl of clam chowder.
My aunts and uncles each took different recipes and memories from my grandmother’s kitchen. Everyone learned how to make the family recipe for spaghetti sauce and over time tweaked it and made it their own. Other recipes were shared with only one of them. Uncle Punkin, it is still a mystery as to how he got that nickname, was the only one entrusted with my grandmother’s clam chowder recipe. It outlived her and was still served at a local restaurant decades after her passing.
As kids, my brother and I never ate it. My mom didn’t know how to make it and if she had we probably would have balked at the idea. I have been told we were not adventurous eaters. Plus, my father also had a shellfish allergy that made him blow up like a puffer fish in defense mode. So, we ate little seafood growing up, outside of those inevitably greasy fish sticks from a box.
Years later when my husband and I wanted to try our hand at clam chowder we called my uncle, at my mother’s insistence of course. I think she was secretly using us, hoping we’d be able to convince him to give us my grandmother’s recipe.
As it turned out, Uncle Punkin was more than willing give it to us, but made me promise not to share it to anyone, “especially your mother,” he said. I promised.
Minutes after getting off the phone with Uncle Punkin, our phone rings and it’s my mom, asking if he divulged the coveted recipe. “He did. And I’ve got it,” I replied in my best super spy voice. “But I can’t share it with you,” I continued. “He made me promise.” There was some rather colorful language on the other end and we hung up.
Minutes later the phone rings again. “Are you on the other line with your mom?” asked Uncle Punkin. “No, she just hung up,” I reply sheepishly. “I didn’t tell her anything,” I quickly reassure him.
“Good,” he says. I feel like I’ve struck a deal with the devil. “Then I’ll tell you the secret ingredient I left out.” He didn’t trust me or my mom for that matter. “It’s a sleeve of finely ground saltine crackers.”
“Thanks. I promise I won’t tell a soul,” and we hung up.
I’ve kept my promise. To this day, my uncle and I are the only ones in the family that know the infamous clam chowder recipe. I just talked to him, hoping I could share grandma’s amazing recipe with you here, but it will have to remain a secret for now.
My husband and I have made only one change. Living in Maryland, we add a healthy dose of Old Bay to give the chowder a little local flare. While oyster crackers are often served alongside a steaming bowl of clam chowder, we thought it would be interesting to dip some Old Bay Biscotti instead.
These are very simple to make, with only 5 ingredients. Since we don’t eat a lot of these at one time, the recipe below is halved and makes about a dozen. The dough is very moist, almost like a cookie dough. You can mix the batter entirely with the spatula and there is no kneading involved. When you are ready to form the logs, moisten your hands with some water to keep the dough from sticking and shape the logs directly on the parchment paper.
Old Bay Biscotti
YIELD: approximately one dozen
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the middle of the oven.
2. In a large flat-bottomed bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and Old Bay.
3. In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs.
4. With a rubber spatula, stir the eggs into the flour mixture until all the ingredients are incorporated and the dough is sticky or the consistency of a drop cookie batter.
5. Moisten your hands with water.
6. Form a log, approximately 2 inches wide and 1 inch high on a parchment lined baking sheet.
7. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the tops begin to crack or split. Transfer the log to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
8. Transfer biscotti log to a cutting board. Slice the biscotti on a diagonal and place cut side down on the same parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for an additional 10 minutes, turning the biscotti once halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
What to do with the ends #74: Forget the mallet! Use the ends to help you break open the steamed crab shells at your next picnic.