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Chowdah Time!

In honor of National Clam Chowder Day tomorrow, I plan to clean my local fishmonger completely out of littleneck clams and whip up an army-sized vat to foist on unsuspecting friends and neighbors. It's one of my all-time favorite dishes, and one I don't indulge in nearly enough. Indulge is actually the wrong word: this doesn't have to be a heavy cream-and-butter fest. The recipe below shows you how a little skillfully deployed half-and-half mixed with flour-thickened reduced-fat milk can give you the same luxurious mouthfeel as a full-cream chowder. As for the clam juice, I've become a big fan of Bar Harbor, which is lower in sodium than some other brands and yet much clammier (in the best possible way). And please, don't let anybody tell you that Manhattan clam chowder is acceptable. Go ahead and make broth-based Rhode Island chowder if you must, but tomato-based chowder? No. Just, no.

Clam Chowder | Photo: John Autry; Styling: Leigh Ann Ross

Clam Chowder Hands On: 37 Minutes, Total: 1 Hour, 7 Minutes 1 1/2 cups chopped onion, divided 1/2 cup unoaked chardonnay 3 1/2 pounds littleneck clams 1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice 1 bay leaf 1 tablespoon butter 1 slice bacon, chopped 3 cups diced red potato 1/2 cup chopped celery 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1/3 cup water 3/4 cup half-and-half 3/4 cup 2% reduced-fat milk 2 tablespoons chopped chives 1 teaspoon chopped thyme

1. Combine 1/2 cup onion, wine, and next 3 ingredients in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cover and cook 2 minutes or until clams open; discard any unopened shells. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a bowl, reserving cooking liquid and clams. Remove meat from clams; chop. Discard shells.

2. Wipe pan clean. Melt butter in pan. Add bacon; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in 1 cup onion, potato, celery, and red pepper; sauté 4 minutes. Stir in flour; cook 1 minute. Stir in cooking liquid and 1/3 cup water; bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat; simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in clams, half-and-half, and milk; cook 1 minute or until heated. Stir in herbs.

SERVES 4 (1 1/4 cups) CALORIES 337; FAT 11.1g (sat 6.1g, mono 1.4g, poly 1.4g); PROTEIN 24.3g; CARB 34.9g; FIBER 3.1g; CHOL 78mg; IRON 20.6mg; SODIUM 310mg; CALC 204mg