This week’s post comes not from Francis but from me, Mark Pascal-- so it will contain no phrases like “hard by the river Styx” or quotes from The Old Man and The Sea. Just a straight-up story.
When I was very young, my Aunt (a daughter of Catherine Lombardi) bought a house on the Peconic Bay. After that, a great deal of my family’s beach time moved from the Jersey Shore to Long Island. Many weekends, and a few weeks a year, were spent at their home.
In the 1970s, the Bay was plentiful with shellfish just yards from their home. Mussels were always easy. They‘re not so bright, you see. They just sit on top of the sand in large bunches in the seaweed. You could catch your fill in minutes. Clams take a lot more work. They’re under the sand and you need to dig for them. It’s difficult when you’re a novice, to tell a clam from a rock and there are lots of rocks in the Peconic. With a little luck we would find some scallops, conch (scungilli) and some razor clams too.
My Grandmother Catherine, Auntie Mame, Uncle Joe, Cumpa, my brother, and I, would spend the afternoon all digging together, each with their own style. Grandma didn’t use a rake, she just dug in the sand with her big-toe until she hit something hard and then yelled for a grandchild to follow her leg down into the water and grab whatever was at the end her big-toe. More often than not it was a clam! Cumpa and I were definitely rake guys. He was a WWII vet, then longshoreman in Brooklyn and there was no quit in him. We were always the last two to come in, only quitting when the incoming tide brought the bay to our shoulders.
As we brought them in, Grandma (having long since given up on the toe-digging) and Cumma would scrub the outsides while Auntie Mame would cut fresh herbs from the garden. Then it was time to divvy up the bounty: the clams, in their pot with white wine garlic, olive oil and some of those fresh picked herbs; the mussels in their own pot with fresh marinara. The scallops would be cleaned and just barely warmed in white wine and garlic. They would finish cooking later in the linguine after being reunited with the clams. Finding the scallop in the linguine and clams was like finding buried treasure. Delicate and sweet, they added texture and creaminess to an already spectacular dish.
By the 1990s, the clams, mussels, and scallops were gone. We could still swim and play at the beach but it wasn’t the same as digging for nature’s bounty. There was something really special about coming home with blisters on your hands, an aching back and a couple of bushels of goodies.
Good things have been happening in Peconic Bay. Five years ago my Aunt told me that the clams were back. So I brought my kids out to teach them our family traditions. This year, along with a few dozen clams, we brought in a conch and my first scallop in 30 years!
It turns out Peconic Bay Scallops are plentiful again. We get them overnight from Montauk and they’re delicious. I’ve asked chef to use them in both restaurants. In Stage Left they are being served En Ceviche alongside a seared giant Sea Scallop. In Catherine Lombardi we are serving them just the way she served them when I was a kid, with garlic, clams good olive oil and herbs over linguine. Simple sweet and delicious.
Of course Catherine Lombardi didn’t have access to White Truffles then but we do now! They're pretty great shaved over this dish. I'm sure Catherine Lombardi would approve.
-- Mark Pascal