A northern Spanish shellfish dish from Jenny Chandler
This combination of beans and shellfish from Asturias in northern Spain is fabulous and makes a kilo of clams go a long way. The locals use tiny green beans called verdinas; I use the more readily available flageolet or a white haricot. You could always use mussels instead of clams, too.
250g flageolet or haricot beans, soaked overnight
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
5 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 glass of dry white wine
Large pinch of saffron
Drain the beans and then place them in a pan with the onion, bay, thyme and enough water to cover them. Do not add any salt at this stage or the bean skins will toughen.
Bring the beans up to the boil and skim off any froth, now turn the beans down and simmer gently (topping up with water now and then to cover the beans). After about an hour add 2 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tsp of salt and continue to cook the beans until tender (anything between 10 and 30 minutes).
While the beans are cooking you can spend some time preparing the clams. You only want to cook live clams with closed shells, so discard any that are open and don’t close when tapped, or any with broken shells. Wash them well and then place in a large bowl, cover with fresh water with 1 tbsp salt and leave for about 20 minutes to purge the clams of any grit or sand.
Once the beans are ready (and there’s nothing to stop you cooking them ahead of time), it’s time to cook the clams. Heat about 3 tbsp of olive oil in a large pan. Throw in the garlic and cook until pale gold. Now add half the parsley and the wine and bring up to the boil before throwing in the clams and covering with a lid. Give it a little shake from time to time, until the shells all open.
Shuck half of the clams and leave the rest in their shells. Add the liquid from the clam pan to your beans. If it looks gritty (some clams can be quite sandy) then you will need to strain it.
Grind the saffron with a pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar and then add that to the beans too. Bring the beans up to a simmer, switch off and then add the clams. Check the seasoning and serve with the remaining parsley.