Clams with Pancetta, Onion and Basil

Several years ago, tired of the worn and battered look of my once-nice kitchen table, I carefully sanded it, stained it and re-polyurethaned it. The process took me a few days, and I was so happy when it looked clean, crisp and fresh again.

Or, it did at first. As it turned out the table wasn’t previously stained. It was painted and the polyurethane layer soon began to peel off like a spent face mask.

It wasn’t pretty.

Soon after — before I could fix my mistake — I moved to Maine with that table, to a place without ample space for resanding and painting. We’ve lived with it in its sad worn state ever since.

And while I appreciate having it — it accommodates a crowd and all the dishes I make for our family dinners — I grit my teeth when I see it. Fortunately, vases of flowers can often distract me. And a well-chosen tablecloth can almost make me forget.

Sometimes though, when the condition of the table really gets to me, I think about disassembling it, rolling the top outside and carrying the base to the curb with a giant FREE sign.

Someone else would surely enjoy it, right?

Of course, that would pose a problem. Where would we gather around for dinners served family style? Where would my kids spill the details of their days over heaping mounts of salad and plates piled with clams? There’s no backup table hidden in our basement, so for now we’ll continue tolerating it.

And we’ll keep digging into flavorful dishes like this one: Clams with Pancetta, Onion, Garlic and Basil.

Peppery pancetta browns, releasing fat for sweet red onions to cook in. Then the clams and a little white wine are added. Once the clams are all cooked and transferred to a serving dish, it’s all finished off with fresh, bright basil. It’s no mistake that there’s no salt or pepper mentioned in the recipe — it doesn’t need it. The natural flavors together are all you need.

This recipe is great with many any clams (you can make it with mussels too). Our favorite is the littleneck variety, but when we found soft-shell clams at Dorr’s Lobster on Broadway in Bangor recently we used them instead. Delightful. You might know this clam variety by its varied other names — like longnecks and steamers.

Whatever type of clam you use, this recipe relies on a building of flavor. And the result is lovely.

Serve this with some crusty bread for dipping in the broth and a tossed salad too — veggies are an important element in every meal.

Then gather around the table and enjoy.

Clams with Pancetta, Onion and Basil
Serves: serves 4
  • 3 oz diced pancetta
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 lbs clams, scrubbed clean
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ¼ cup finely sliced basil
  1. Heat pancetta in a large saute pan over medium heat until just beginning to brown. Add the onions and cook until softened.
  2. Add the clams and the wine. Cover, and cook for 5-8 minutes, until the clams are opened.
  3. Remove clams to a serving dish. Boil the liquid in the pan for an additional minute before pouring over the clams.
  4. Scatter the basil on top. Enjoy.


Sarah Walker Caron

About Sarah Walker Caron

Sarah Walker Caron is editor of Bangor Metro magazine and senior features editor for the Bangor Daily News. She is the author of "The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook," (Sept. 2018, Rockridge Press) and the co-author of "Grains as Mains: Modern Recipes Using Ancient Grains" (March 2015, DK). Her recipes have appeared in the BDN, Betty Crocker publications, and more. She also writes about food at