Fresh shellfish is one of the hallmarks of a good summer vacation, and it is best eaten barefoot with a sea breeze and chilled rose. But life is not always a beach and we are, regrettably, not always on vacation. Luckily, with a few staycation-ready recipes stored away, you can easily transport yourself and all of your friends to the shores of Cape Cod.
This Grilled White Pizza with Cockles, Lemon and Kale, with a rich creamy sauce reminiscent of New England clam chowder, is a refreshing change of pace from a summer full of hamburgers and grilled vegetables. Bright lemon zest pops against the season’s sweetest clams, while lightly charred pizza dough offers a crunchy smokiness that no oyster cracker would dare to challenge.
Culinary Institute of America chef Scott Swartz says that grilling pizza, especially this one, is great for summertime parties, because each component can be made ahead.
He suggests, “Grill one side of the pizza dough, then remove it, cooked-side up, to a lightly oiled tray. Put your toppings on the cooked side and then, just before serving, return to the grill, cover, and let the dough crisp and the toppings warm through. This way, the dough can be grilled way ahead of time and quickly finished when ready to eat.”
Though the flavors of this pizza are rich and bold, there’s still leaves plenty of room for personalization. Add familiar chowder ingredients like bacon or sweet summer corn for an ode to the classic. Or try roasted poblanos, caramelized fennel, or spicy chorizo for something new and exciting.
And if this feels a little heavy on the summer bod, you can make the sauce without the cream. Since you’ll still need it to be saucy, we would add a bit more wine and a little squeeze of lemon juice. Remember, though, that the whole thing is topped with kale, which basically makes it a salad, right?
Speaking of kale, we like it here because it’s a mild green with a texture that holds up well to cooking. If it’s not for you, you can use spinach (just skip the pre-cooking step), Swiss chard, or even flavorful mustard greens. This would also be equally delicious with blanched asparagus, thinly sliced broccoli, or even shaved cabbage.
Cockles are a nice choice for this pizza, since they are small and tender, but fresh and local should take precedence. Choose whatever clam variety is of the best quality where you are, and make sure to keep them nice and cold while you prepare the other ingredients.
Most store-bought clams should be relatively clean and free of sand, but you’ll want to be extra sure, since in most coastal regions, serving gritty clams is punishable by a fine of one case of cold beer. Refrigerate your clams in a bowl of salted water for at least a few hours for peace of mind. Discard any clams with broken or damaged shells, or any open clams that do not close when gently tapped.
This pizza makes enough a family dinner, with a nice summer salad on the side. The recipe can easily be doubled or even tripled for a party, and the dough can be shaped into rectangles for easy appetizer portions, or even into small individual rounds—whatever floats your boat. It’s still summer, so you can do what you want. Save the rules for September.
Grilled White Pizza With Cockles, Lemon And Kale
Start to finish: 1 hour
3 cups torn kale leaves, from about ½ bunch
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound, 8 ounces of cockles, little necks, or other small, seasonal clam, rinsed and soaked, if needed
2 teaspoons cornstarch, mixed with 1 tablespoon water, to make a slurry
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound pizza dough, thawed if frozen
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1 teaspoon lemon zest (see note)
Lemon wedges, for serving
In a large bowl, prepare an ice water bath and set aside. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the kale and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Use tongs or a large slotted spoon to transfer the kale to the ice water bath to cool. Drain and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large lidded saucepan or pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook, stirring constantly, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the wine, cream, and clams, and stir to coat. Cover and cook until the clamshells have opened, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer clams to a bowl.
Return the pan to low heat and bring the cooking liquid to a simmer. Add the cornstarch slurry, mixing constantly to incorporate. Return to a simmer and add the cheese and pepper. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the cheese has melted and the sauce has thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, straining through a mesh sieve if desired, and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, remove the clam meat from the shells and roughly chop (leave some clams in the shell for garnish, if you like). Discard shells.
To make the pizza, prepare a grill for medium-heat cooking. Roll or stretch the pizza dough into a 14-inch round. Lightly brush one side with about half of the canola oil, then place oil-side down on the grill. Cook, covered, until the dough is browned and crisp on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes.
Carefully transfer the dough, cooked-side down, onto a large baking sheet. Brush the top with the remaining canola oil, then flip. Spread the cooked side with a thin layer of cream sauce (you may not use it all), leaving a 2-inch border around the edge of the dough. Top with chopped clams, kale, and chili flakes and cook until crisp and golden brown and toppings are warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with lemon zest, then slice and serve with lemon wedges.
Chef’s Note: For a sweet and savory variation, use chopped candied lemon peel in place of fresh zest. It can be found in most specialty markets.
Nutrition information per serving: 570 calories; 250 calories from fat; 28 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 49 mg cholesterol; 465 mg sodium; 59 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 25 g protein.