2 dozen medium clams such as Manila or 3 dozen small clams such as Littlenecks
12-ounce bottle clam juice, as needed
1 cup diced raw applewood smoked bacon (4 to 5 slices)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 11/2 cups)
2 stalks celery, chopped
31/2 cups peeled and chopped sweet potato (2-inch chunks)1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 cups half-and-half
Scrub the clams well. Spread them in an even layer in a large 12-inch frying pan with a lid. Add 11/2 cups water, cover and bring to a boil. Set a heatproof bowl nearby. Cook the clams until the shells open, 2 to 5 minutes. As a clam opens, remove it from the pan with tongs and plop it into the bowl. After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and discard any clams that remain closed.
Pour the pan liquid through a sieve or cheesecloth to strain any grit. You should have about 1 1/2 cups. If there is less, add enough bottled clam juice to equal this amount; set aside.
Transfer the clams, still in their shells, back to the pan and cover it with a lid to keep them from drying out.
Cook the bacon in a 3-quart soup pot until crisp and brown. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain, reserving 1 tablespoon bacon fat in the pot. Discard the rest.
Add olive oil to the pot and heat over medium for a few seconds. Add onion and celery, cooking until soft and golden, about 5 minutes.
Add sweet potatoes, clam liquid, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cover the pan and simmer just until sweet potatoes are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove clams from their shells. When sweet potatoes are done, add clams and half-and-half. Heat gently until chowder is piping hot. Serve topped with bacon. Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 389 calories, 47 percent calories from fat, 20.0 g fat, (10.2 g sat fat, 5.8 g mono fat), 74 mg cholesterol, 19.6 g protein, 32.4 g carbohydrate, 3.4 g fiber, 980 mg sodium.