Al cartoccio (meaning a “small cartridge bag” in Italian) is a method of cooking in which the food is put into a folded pouch and then baked. The resulting “cartocci” is traditionally made from folded waxed paper, but Mario Batatli in his comprehensive cookbook, Mario Batali Italian Grill, prefers the much more modern and easier to use aluminum foil.
There is much to thank Mario Batali for. It is due to his drive and skill that Italian cuisine has risen to prominence once again. In 1998 his restaurant, Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca in New York City, received a coveted three stars award from the New York Times - the first Italian restaurant to do so in 40 years!
Additional award winning restaurants, cookbooks and T.V. shows soon followed – all further the public’s awareness of one of the world’s great cuisines. Thank you Mario Batali!
One reason for Batali’s success was his desire to share with others the many excellent but little known dishes of Italian cuisine including Clams Cartocci. Clams Cartocci was once so popular it shared its name with a popular early twentieth century opera bag!
The purpose of al cartoccio cooking is to create steam and preserve the moisture of the food within the wrapper. Al cartoccio dishes are healthy and often low in calories. Cooking al cartoccio is also time and energy efficient.
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/8-inch dice
- 2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 to 3 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 3 pounds Taylor Shellfish Farms clams
- 12 ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
- Cut six 12-inch squares of heavy-duty foil.
- Preheat a gas grill or prepare a fire in a charcoal grill.
- Pour the olive oil into 10- to 12-inch sauté pan.
- Add pancetta.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta is starting to brown, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the bell peppers, garlic, and pepper flakes.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, just until the peppers are beginning to soften, about 3 minutes.
- Add the wine and bring to a boil.
- Stir in the parsley, remove from the heat, and set aside to cool completely.
- Layout the squares on a large work surface.
- Fold up the edges of each one to form a shallow bowl.
- Divide the clams among them, then divide the pancetta mixture, with its liquid, among them.
- Scatter 4 tomato halves over each pile.
- Bring the four corners of each foil packet up over the clams like a hobo sack.
- Twist the top together securely, crimping the edges to create a tight seal.
- Place the packs on the hottest part of the grill.
- Cook until you can hear the juices bubbling, about 2 to 3 minutes, then let cook for 4 minutes longer.
- Transfer the packets to a large platter and serve.
NOTE: BE SURE TO CAUTION GUESTS AS STEAM WILL BE RELEASED ON OPENING EACH CARTOCCIO.