3 dozens littleneck clams or 3 lb. cockles
3 tbsp. EVOO
3 small shallots or 1 small onion, finely chopped
6 fat cloves of garlic, thinly sliced or chopped
4 tbsp. sun-dried tomato paste or regular tomato paste
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped, or 1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. Calabrian chile paste or 1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. ground fennel or fennel pollen or fennel seed
½ cup sweet (red) vermouth
1 can (28 oz.) diced or crushed Italian tomatoes
½ cup drained sweet Peppadew or sweet pickled cherry peppers, chopped, or sweet red pepper relish
Salt and pepper
A fat handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
Ciabatta or other crusty bread, for serving
In a large bowl of ice water, scrub the clams well with a brush to get rid of any dirt and debris.
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat the EVOO, three turns of the pan, over medium-high. Add the shallots and stir until they begin to soften, a minute or two. Add the garlic, tomato paste, oregano, chile paste, and ground fennel. Stir until the tomato paste darkens in color, about a minute more. Add the vermouth and cook until the liquid starts to reduce, 30 seconds or so. Stir in the tomatoes and peppers, then let the mixture come to a bubble. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Add the clams and cover the pan. Cook until the clams open, 7 to 8 minutes (discard any that don’t open). Stir in the basil.
Divide the clams and sauce among shallow bowls. Serve with the bread.