I made two things over the holiday season that were big hits: My artichoke-crab dip, and linguine with baby clams (actually cockles, but whatever...). Here are the recipes:
Hot Crab and Artichoke Dip
1 9-oz package frozen artichoke hearts
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups half and half
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons minced drained pickled jalapenos
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
3/4 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over (I actually use canned white crab--less expensive and tastes great)
Preheat oven to 375F
Cook artichoke hearts according to package instruction, then drain well and finely chop. Cook bell pepper in 1 tablespoon butter in a 3- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in artichokes and transfer mixture to a bowl.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over moderately low heat, then add flour and cook roux, stirring, 3 minutes. Add half and half in a stream, whisking, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking, for 3 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in artichoke mixture, scallions, 1/3 cup parmesan, lemon juice, jalapenos, salt, and celery salt. Gently stir in crab. Transfer to a buttered 1 1/2-quart shallow baking dish and sprinkle with remaining parmesan.
Bake dip in middle of oven until bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm with crackers or cut up baguette.
Linguine with Clam Sauce
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon dried red hot pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup bottled clam juice
1 pound linguine
2 pounds small cockles (up to 1 inch across, about 5 to 6 dozen)
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Heat oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then saute onion, stirring, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano, and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in wine and clam juice and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling, salted water until al dente, then drain in a colander. While pasta is cooking, stir cockles into sauce and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until cockles open wide, 4 to 6 minutes. (Discard any cockles that have not opened after 6 minutes.) Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted.
Add pasta to cockles along with parsley and salt to taste, the toss with sauce until combined well.
Serves 6 as an appetizer and 4 as a main dish.