I once saw a movie with a female lead who loved to make just appetizers for dinner — even when there was no party. (Was it Moonstruck? I’m drawing a blank.)
That appetizer-for-dinner idea struck me as brilliant. What a fun concept!
I think I spent the rest of the movie fantasizing about the finger-food I should eat for dinner, just because. (No wonder I can’t recall the film’s title.)
But that whimsical notion has stayed with me. So every once in awhile, I giddily make just hors d’oeuvres for dinner.
I used to prepare three different kinds, but here’s what happened: This Clams Casino Dip stole the show.
It’s so good, my husband and kids (OK, me too) decided that a double batch is all that’s necessary for a satisfying meal, along with our dipping accessories.
So, on a Friday night, you might see a pan of this cheesy, breadcrumby, buttery, oniony (it’s fun to make up new words) clam deliciousness smack dab in the center of our table, along with carrots, red peppers, and crostini (formerly Melba Toast, before I changed my eating habits).
I’ve tweaked the recipe over the past decade, and it’s only gotten better. (Try it with my Homemade Italian Bread Crumbs.)
And although traditional Clams Casino calls for bacon, this dip works better without it. (There’s enough saltiness from the cheese and clam juice. Plus, the bacon overpowered the other flavors when we tried it.)
As for Moonstruck, it’s obvious I don’t have a good recollection of this movie, which I saw as a teenager more than 25 years ago. I think it’s time I rented it again to view it through my middle-aged eyes — while eating appetizers.
(Recipe Source: Adapted from a Hot Clam Dip recipe posted in an online forum years ago. Original source unknown.)
- 1 small onion (peeled & finely chopped)
- 6 tablespoons salted butter
- 2 6.5-ounce cans chopped clams (drained & rinsed)
- 1 cup bottled clam juice (shake bottle before pouring)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from one lemon)
- 2/3 cup Italian bread crumbs + 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (if using Cooking with Mamma C's recipe for Homemade Italian Bread Crumbs - prepare seasoned bread crumbs without cheese; mix 2/3 cup of the seasoned bread crumbs with 1/3 cup Parmesan; add salt to taste)
- 4 ounces mozzarella (shredded or grated; reserve 3 tablespoons to sprinkle on top)
- paprika to sprinkle on top
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Peel and finely chop the onion. Melt butter in a 10-inch skillet or a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onions to the pan and cook them until soft, at least five minutes.
- While onions are cooking, mix the other ingredients in a pie dish (I use my deep-dish baker), saving a little mozzarella and the paprika to sprinkle on top later.
- Add the cooked onions and butter to the pie dish and stir to combine with the rest of the dip. Use the back of your spoon to smooth the dip evenly in the pan. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella on top, followed by paprika.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, uncovered. Let the dip cool for at least 5 minutes. Serve with carrot sticks, red pepper strips, toasted pita wedges, crostini or Melba Toast. It's best not to use anything salty.
Draining and rinsing the canned clams gets rid of excess sodium and unwanted chemicals. Bottled clam juice has less salt and no additives (check the label.) The juice should be located near the canned clams in the grocery store.