4 pounds fresh clams in their shells
2 bacon strips, diced
1 cup chopped celery
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 sweet bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup butter (optional)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
2 cups red potatoes, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Steam the clams, covered, in 2 cups of water. When they open, remove from heat. Discard any clams that did not open.

When cool enough to handle, remove meat from shells; discard shells and chop meat. Set aside. Strain broth, discarding sand, and set aside.

In a large heavy pot, saute the bacon until browned (but not completely crisp). Add the celery, onions and bell pepper and continue to cook until vegetables are soft. At this point, you may add the butter, which is strictly a flavoring and can be omitted, if desired. Season with the thyme. Sprinkle the flour over sauteed vegetables and bacon and cook for 3 minutes, stirring continuously.

Whisk reserved broth into vegetable mixture, then add the milk and potatoes. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring continuously to prevent lumps, then reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking. After about 15 minutes, add clams, then continue cooking until potatoes are very tender, for about 15 minutes more. Season with the white pepper.

When ready to serve, adjust thickness, if desired, adding more milk if soup seems too thick. Makes about 6 servings.

— Recipe adapted from "The Timberline Lodge Cookbook," by chef Leif Eric Benson.