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Tuscan Island–Style Shellfish Stew
Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a first course

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
4 to 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Large pinch of hot red pepper flakes or 1/2 Serrano chile, finely sliced
1 cup dry white wine
31/2 pounds shellfish
, such as mussels, clams, and/or cockles, scrubbed
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley or basil
6 large slices crusty peasant bread, toasted (optional)

Sauté the garlic in the olive oil. In a large heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and hot pepper flakes and sauté, stirring frequently, until the garlic is soft and just beginning to turn golden, 3 to 4 minutes; do not allow to brown.

Add the wine and reduce. Add the wine, increase the heat to high, and boil until reduced by half, 6 to 7 minutes.

Cook the shellfish in the garlic–wine mixture. Add the shellfish, cover, and cook, shaking the pan frequently to rearrange them, until all the shells have opened, 5 to 7 minutes. Finish the sauce and serve. Toss in the herbs and the remaining tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (or butter, if you prefer). If desired, place a slice of toasted bread in each shallow soup bowl. Spoon the shellfish and sauce on top of the bread. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, if desired.

Note: Garlic cloves often have a green sprout in the center that can give a bitter flavor to the dish. Before slicing, halve each clove lengthwise and remove the sprout with the tip of a paring knife.